Florence Kong, one of the many, many people ensnared in a federal probe of San Francisco City Hall that dates back to 2019 and beyond, has just agreed to an eyebrow-raising $750,000 settlement with the city.
We first heard the name Florence Kong in June 2020, when federal investigators named her among a group of businesspeople with city contracts being charged with bribery and corruption. Kong, specifically, was charged with bribing former Public Works chief Mohammed Nuru with a $40,000 Rolex watch and further buttering him up with cash, gifts, and expensive meals, all in exchange for favorable contracts. She was also charged with lying to federal agents.
Kong, 65, owns a construction business, as well as a business that recycles construction debris, and after pleading guilty to lying to investigators, she served one year in federal prison. She was the first city contractor to be sentenced in the wide-ranging probe in early 2021, and the feds also made her pay a $95,000 fine.
Now, having done her time, Kong has agreed to settle her ethics case with the city. As Mission Local reports, she and her companies have been ordered to reimburse the City of San Francisco $640,500 — an amount Kong's companies received via these ill-gotten contracts — along with $109,500 in ethics fines and fees.
That totals $750,000, and marks one of the largest settlements in SF ethics-violation history — though it is still dwarfed by the $1.45 million that former SF permit expeditor Walter Wong agreed to pay in 2021.
SF City Attorney David Chiu said in a statement that this settlement "sends a strong message that those who undermine our contracting processes will have to pay for those actions." And, Chiu added, "I am proud of our attorneys and investigators for securing such a significant settlement that fully resolves this matter. To her credit, Ms. Kong cooperated with our investigation, took responsibility for wrongdoing, and was eager to rectify past harms."
This corruption scandal had many branches and took many turns over the last four years. If you want a handy primer on all the players involved, Mission Local has an interactive bubble feature showing all the many links, and if you click on an individual you can get a brief description of their role and/or their misdeeds.
At the center of much of it was Nuru, who was sentenced in 2022 to seven years for his role — and the federal judge who issued the sentence said Nuru's acts were "at least as reprehensible" as gang murders and other "horrible things" he sentenced people for, and prosecutors referred to Nuru as a "quintessential grifter."
The investigation revealed that Nuru had personally enriched himself and funded a vacation home in Colusa County with bribes, and gone on expensive trips paid for by developers like Zhang Li — who pleaded guilty himself last summer in a deal that let him off with a $50,000 fine.
All the city contractors involved, including Kong, have also been barred from doing future business with the city.
Many believed that Mayor London Breed, or former mayors Ed Lee (RIP) and Willie Brown would get ensnared in all this somehow, but all three have so far skirted any charges — though the Mission Local bubble chart shows just how in the middle of things Brown appeared to be, at least by association. Breed did admit to a romantic relationship with Nuru, which had apparently ended by the time of his arrest in January 2020 — she also quickly owned up to a car repair that Nuru had paid for on her behalf, which was characterized as a gift between friends but she apologized nonetheless for the seeming impropriety.
In total, the scandal led to the resignations or firings of multiple city department heads and building inspectors — in total, about a dozen city employees to date.
Photo: Carlos Estevez