Facing Corruption Charges, San Francisco Department Head Resigns

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A high-ranking city government official swept up in a federal corruption probe resigned from his job Monday amid an internal investigation that was expected to result in his firing.

San Francisco Public Works director Mohammed Nuru has stepped down from his $273,00-per-year job as two city agencies are investigating contracts, grants and other decisions Nuru made for potential conflicts of interest and violations of laws and city policies.

Nuru, 57, was arrested last month and charged with attempting to bribe a San Francisco Airport commissioner and lying to the FBI. 

San Francisco Department of Public Works director Mohammed Nuru. (SFPW photo)

Nuru headed a department with a $500 million annual budget and 1,600 employees. He also served as chair of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, a position he allegedly used to secure a retail space lease at the city’s Transbay Transit Center for his co-defendant, restaurateur Nick Bovis. 

Nuru was placed on paid administrative leave on Jan. 28, the day his arrest was made public.

In a statement Monday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the city could not legally fire Nuru for being arrested for an alleged crime. The city had to investigate the allegations against him first, she said. 

“We can now move the Department forward under new leadership,” Breed said. “Our goal is to continue to support the hard-working employees of this department and to continue its mission of cleaning our streets, performing critical infrastructure work, and taking care of our City.”

Breed appointed Alaric Degrafinried, who previously worked as city purchaser heading the city’s Office of Contract Administration, to take over as interim public works director on Jan. 29.

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney has called for an outside investigator to look into the city’s contracts and finances. The mayor’s office insists the City Attorney’s Office and Controller’s Office are independent agencies and that their investigation will be thorough and independent.

Nuru’s attorney, Ismail Ramsey of the Berkley-based firm Ramsey & Ehrlich, released a statement Monday touting Nuru’s decades-long service to San Francisco, including his work helping disadvantaged youth and marginalized adults.

“Under his leadership, the revitalization of the city’s infrastructure and buildings – including hospitals, the convention center, various police stations and other civil structures – has created a lasting impact,” Ramsey said.

A criminal complaint unsealed Jan. 28 details numerous schemes, including one in which Nuru allegedly used his position to benefit a Chinese developer in exchange for luxury hotel stays and gifts, including a $2,070 bottle of French wine. Nuru was also accused of passing inside information to help his co-defendant Bovis obtain city contracts to provide public toilets and homeless shelters.

According to prosecutors, a construction company that won a $2 million public works contract provided free and discounted work and materials for Nuru’s vacation property in Stonyford near Mendocino National Forest. The construction firm also reportedly gave Nuru a free John Deere tractor for the property.

After initially agreeing to cooperate with the FBI, prosecutors say Nuru told a high-ranking city official about his arrest and the ongoing investigation. That high-ranking official, who multiple media outlets have identified as San Francisco City Administrator Naomi Kelly, reported the conversations to the FBI. During a Jan. 27 meeting with FBI agents, Nuru denied having talked about the investigation to other city officials. When confronted about specific conversations with the high-ranking employee, Nuru admitted he lied, according to a criminal complaint.

Nuru could face an additional five years in prison for lying to the FBI, on top of a maximum 20-year sentence for one count of honest services wire fraud.

Nuru appeared in court last week for a hearing on the status of his $2 million bond, for which he is finalizing paperwork to use his property as collateral. The former public works director is due back in court for a status conference on Feb. 27.

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