A federal judge sentenced Mohammed Nuru, the former San Francisco public works director, to seven years in prison for bribery and kickbacks.

Nuru, 59, pleaded guilty to the charge of defrauding the public of its right to honest services earlier this year amid a federal investigation into public corruption in San Francisco’s government. 

Prosecutors say Nuru wielded “substantial power and influence” over San Francisco’s public contracts, permits and construction projects. As part of his plea agreement, Nuru admitted to a long-running scheme of bribery, kickbacks and fraud that started in 2008, when he was the city Dept. of Public Works’ deputy director of operations, and continued following his 2011 promotion until he resigned in 2020 following his arrest. Nuru also sat on the board of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority and eventually became its chair during the time of the admitted corruption. 

Northern California U.S. District Judge William Orrick sentenced Nuru Aug. 25. Following the seven-year prison term, Nuru faces three years of supervised release. Orrick also ordered Nuru to surrender a vacation ranch property in Stonyford, Calif. Nuru is due to begin serving his sentence on Jan. 6.

Nuru Shook Down Contractors

“For at least twelve years, Nuru shook down contractors eager for city business, trading his authority and influence for millions of dollars in cash, construction work, travel, meals and gifts,” U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds said in a statement. 

Prosecutors detailed some examples of Nuru’s schemes. Construction contractor Walter Wong began giving Nuru cash-filled envelopes with as much as $5,000 at a time in 2008, authorities say. Wong also provided Nuru with labor and materials worth more than $260,000 for Nuru’s San Francisco home and his ranch, and paid for Nuru to travel to China and South America. In exchange, Nuru structured city requests for proposals to ensure Wong’s company won contracts, authorities say. Nuru also provided Wong with confidential information on competitors’ bids, and expedited permit approvals for the firm.

Wong agreed last year to pay $1.7 million to settle charges of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, records show.

In another instance, authorities say Florence Kong, who owned a recycling plant as well as construction and real estate businesses, bribed Nuru with a $36,550 gold Rolex watch, cash and fence installation at his ranch. Nuru awarded Kong’s recycling plant a contract to dispose of construction debris.

In February 2021, Orrick sentenced Kong to serve one year plus one day in prison, records show. 

As ENR previously reported, two executives from the construction firm ProVen Management also pleaded guilty in 2021 to bribing Nuru for inside information and a city contract. Records show that Orrick sentenced the company’s president, Alan Varela, to two years in prison. 

Nuru also accepted bribes from a waste management company, restaurateur and others, authorities say. 

In total, the investigation into public corruption has led to charges against 12 people and companies, prosecutors say. Charges are also pending against Harlan Kelly, former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, they added. Sean Ragan, FBI special agent in charge, said the investigation is ongoing.