Restaurateur Reaches Plea Deal in San Francisco Corruption Case

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

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A former restaurant owner caught up in a corruption scandal that took down one of San Francisco’s highest-ranking government officials has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with an ongoing investigation, federal prosecutors confirmed Wednesday.

Nick Bovis, 56, is accused of scheming with former San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru in attempting to bribe an airport official and obtain lucrative city contracts. Bovis was the owner of the prominent but now-shuttered San Francisco establishments Lefty O’Doul’s and Gold Dust Lounge.

During a telephonic hearing before U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero on Wednesday, Bovis pleaded not guilty to two counts of wire fraud. His lawyers revealed the defendant plans to change his plea later this month.

“It’s going to be a filed plea agreement,” Bovis’ lawyer Michael Stepanian said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California confirmed in a statement Wednesday that Bovis has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with investigators.

Stepanian and Gilbert Eisenberg, Bovis’ other defense lawyer, asked Spero to schedule a change-of-plea hearing for May 21 before U.S. District Judge William Orrick III, who was assigned the criminal case on Wednesday.

Stepanian and Eisenberg did not immediately return emails requesting comment.

Bovis faces a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for two counts of wire fraud.

According to federal prosecutors, Nuru and Bovis tried to bribe a San Francisco airport commissioner to steer a contract for airport lease space to an unnamed source.

In a recorded phone call, Bovis told a confidential source that Nuru would pay the unnamed airport commissioner $5,000 and provide her a free trip in exchange for help winning the airport lease. Though she was not named as the official referenced in the complaint, former airport commissioner Linda Crayton resigned her position on Jan. 29, one day after the criminal complaint was unsealed.

In February, the San Francisco Chronicle identified Samir Mashni and Noureddine “Dean” Hachem, two Detroit-based businessmen who own an airport concession business, as the confidential sources that secretly recorded conversations with Nuru and Bovis for the FBI.

Bovis and Nuru were each released on a $2 million bond in January.

Aside from the alleged airport scheme, federal prosecutors also claim Nuru used inside information to help Bovis obtain city contracts to provide bathroom trailers and shipping container-type shelters for homeless residents in San Francisco.

Additionally, Nuru is accused of using his position as chair of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority Board of Directors to help Bovis secure a desirable lease for retail space at the city’s Transbay Transit Center. The center is a major bus terminal that was completed in August 2018 but shut down due to construction defects before reopening in June 2019.

Beyond those alleged schemes, Nuru is also accused of using his position to help a Chinese billionaire advance a multimillion-dollar mixed-use development in San Francisco in exchange for luxury hotel stays, a $2,070 bottle of French wine and other gifts.

Prosecutors also claim a construction company that won a $2 million public works contract provided free and discounted labor and materials for Nuru’s vacation property in Stonyford near Mendocino National Forest. The construction firm reportedly gave Nuru a free John Deere tractor for the property as well.

Nuru is also accused of lying to the FBI after he agreed to cooperate with investigators, a charge that carries an additional five-year maximum prison sentence on top of the 20-year maximum for each count of wire fraud.

Nuru stepped down from his $273,000-per-year job in February after his arrest.

Two city agencies are investigating Nuru’s dealings as a government official for potential conflicts of interest and violations of laws and city policies.

Bovis’ arraignment comes one day after federal prosecutors charged another former San Francisco official with bank fraud for allegedly bilking clients of his engineering firm out money intended for city fees and permits. Former San Francisco building commissioner Rodrigo Santos is accused of diverting $478,000 for building inspection fees to his personal bank account.

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