Trash Boss the Latest Charged in San Francisco Public Works Bribery Scheme

John Porter faces 30 years in federal prison if convicted on charges of bribing the former head of San Francisco’s public works department to charge San Franciscans higher rates for trash pickup.

(Image by drewplaysdrums from Pixabay)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Federal prospectors charged a trash company boss on Thursday with bribing the former head of San Francisco’s public works department to get him to sign off on higher garbage collection rates from the city.

As vice president of waste management company Recology until this past January, John Porter helped funnel a stream of benefits worth more than $1 million to curry favor with Mohammed Nuru, who ran the Department of Public Works as his own personal fiefdom until his arrest in 2020.

“Mohammed is the director of the DPW who ultimately signs off on our rates. Needless to say, keeping him happy is important,” Porter said in an email to a colleague in 2015 as the company negotiated for rate increases for residential garbage collection, according to federal prosecutors.

Porter directed his underling Paul Giusti to provide Nuru with cash gifts that helped fund a variety of activities for department employees, including “holiday events, big Public Works Week picnics, a health fair with acupuncture and massages, staff lunches, awards, Public Works gear, and even a treadmill for the DPW yard,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday.

Prosecutors say Giusti laundered thousands of dollars worth of holiday party contributions by disguising the payments as donations to the Lefty O’Doul’s Foundation for Kids, a children’s charity run by San Francisco restaurateur Nick Bovis.

Bovis was arrested in January 2020, accused of scheming with Nuru in attempting to bribe an airport official and obtain lucrative city contracts. Bovis owned the prominent but now-shuttered San Francisco establishments Lefty O’Doul’s and Gold Dust Lounge. Facing a maximum prison sentence of 40 years, he reached a plea agreement with prosecutors this past May.

Nuru was arrested alongside Bovis, and faces charges of honest services wire fraud and lying to FBI agents. He could be sentenced to 25 years in prison if convicted.

According to the complaint against Porter, Recology was the largest contributor to the department of public works’ holiday parties, giving a total of $60,000 from 2016 through 2019.

In a phone call recorded in November 2018, Nuru asked Giusti to increase Recology’s contribution from the $15,000 Nuru received for the holiday party in 2017.

“Yeah, so last year was $15,000 you guys gave us,” Nuru said, adding, “Yeah, so if you could, if you could give me 20, that would be nice.”

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

“All right, OK,” Giusti replies.

Nuru then tells Giusti that he was “working on the other thing for John,” referring to Porter and the desired Recology price increase.

Recology’s bid to increase collection rates was ultimately unsuccessful, according to the complaint, but it was still awarded a portion of the contract rebid by the city in 2019.

Prosecutors also say that between February 2013 and November 2019, Recology made 35 payments totaling $1,030,000 to a nonprofit identified only as “nonprofit A,” ostensibly at Nuru’s direction. The money funneled through that nonprofit as donations ended up going to a Department of Public Works anti-litter program called “Giant Sweep,” the complaint says, and the nonprofit took a 5% cut.

These payments are detailed in a serious of emails between Porter and Giusti, including this exchange cited in the complaint where Giusti writes, “I got my ass chewed out this morning from Mohammed and actually had to promise to write a personal check to a nonprofit that has been waiting months to get paid!”

Ten minutes later, Porter replied, “We should sit down and discuss all the politically sensitive payments that we make on a recurring basis so that we can check to ensure that those are paid regularly.”

Giusti responded, “Not paying our commitments timely negates all the goodwill we build by making the donation/sponsorship in the first place.”

According to the complaint, these “Giant Sweep” payments continued right up until Nuru’s arrest, then ended after Porter told a Recology manager to “hold off on approving this for now.”

Giusti was charged last November with bribery and money laundering for his part in the scheme. He faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Porter faces the same charges and is scheduled to appear in federal court on April 20.

“Once again a person employed by a company contracting with San Francisco has been charged with bribing a San Francisco City Hall official with more than $1 million of funds and benefits,” Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds said in a statement. “A person who pays a bribe is as criminally liable as the public official who takes it.”

Hinds added that the corruption investigation is still ongoing.

Thus far, 11 people — including city employees and contractors — have been charged with crimes related to the Department of Public Works corruption probe.

In March, Recology agreed to repay ratepayers $100 million for overcharges from rate hikes that Nuru approved in 2017.

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