Head of San Francisco Public Works, Lefty O'Doul's owner arrested on corruption charges

Federal investigators on Tuesday announced corruption charges against the director of San Francisco Public Works, Mohammed Nuru, nickname Mr. Clean SF, and the owner of the popular Lefty O'Doul's restaurant, Nick Bovis. 

Nuru was first arrested on Jan. 21 and released to FBI custody on condition that he would cooperate with the investigation. Investigators said, Nuru was advised by the court and FBI not to disclose his cooperation and he promised to obey those admonishments.  

Authorities said he violated those terms and was arrested a second time on Monday. Bovis was also arrested on Monday. 

Both defendants made court appearances on Tuesday and were each released on a $2 million bond. 

The FBI investigation included undercover operatives, surveillance and wiretaps. At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, federal agents detailed the corruption, bribery and side deals by one of San Francisco's highest-ranking public employees. 

FBI said both men tried unsuccessfully to bribe the San Francisco Airport commissioner with respect to a restaurant lease without competetive bidding. The alleged bribe involved an envelope of $5,000 in cash in addition to the provision of travel. 

Nuru is also accused of rigging the city's building permit and inspection process to help a billionaire Chinese developer, who in return showered him with gifts that Nuru allegedly did not disclose. 

U.S. Attorney David Anderson said those gifts included travel, lodging and high-end liquor. 

In another scheme, Nuru allegedly helped Bovis with leasing rights at the Transbay Transit Center. Federal agents also said Nuru gave Bovis inside information to help Bovis bid for contracts to build homeless shelters and restrooms. 

Details of a final scheme, involved Nuru's personal vacation home in Colusa County. 

"Contractors doing work for the City of San Francisco provided Nuru, as alleged in the complaint, with free and discounted labor, materials and a John Deere tractor," Anderson said. 

Nuru's attorney, Ismail Ramsey, described his client as a father of five and dedicated public servant. In a statement, Ramsey said: "Mr. Nuru welcomes and looks forward to addressing these charges in court." 

Bovis' attorney declined to give comment. 

Nuru's City Hall office was searched by FBI agents on Monday. Federal agents seized an undisclosed number of documents. 

The door to the Department of Public Works office inside City Hall was locked Tuesday. All questions were referred to the mayor's office. 

Mayor London Breed told KTVU that she didn't have all the details of the case, but she did urge City Attorney Herrera to cooperate with the federal inquiry to "ensure public trust and transparency." 

Breed said she suspended Nuru, placing him on paid administrative leave Monday evening. 

In a letter to Herrera and City Controller Ben Rosenfield, Mayor Breed said the investigation was ongoing. She requested that they review the charging documents and conduct a thorough review. 

"As you both conduct this review, please also work to identify recommendations on how we might strengthen our contracting procedures to ensure that the City's use of public funds merits the highest level of public trust," she wrote.  

"It is, of course, important that we that we work with our City Attorney and our Controllers Office to fully cooperate with the FBI on this particular investigation to ensure public trust and transparency," Breed told KTVU. 

District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney reacted on Twitter, writing: "We have the most filthy streets in the country. And our Public Works Director was just charged with extensive public corruption. Of course these are related. Our residents deserve a Director focused entirely on ensuring clean and [healthy] streets and sidewalks, not self dealing." 

Haney is calling for Nuru to be fired. 

"I think it's awful. It's a betrayal of the public's trust," said Haney. "It's massive corruption and honestly I think that this requires much overdue restructuring of this entire department."

The city administrator's office is working on an interim leadership strategy following Nuru's placement on administrative leave.

Supervisors Haney and Hillary Ronen had been working on legislation surrounding the leadership of the Department of Public Works before the Nuru arrest.

"It is a department that is so controlled by one person, with so little public accountability," Ronen said. "That we felt we weren't getting services for our neighborhoods that are quite frankly filthy."

On the city's website, there is a picture of Nuru giving a happy thumbs-up sign. His mantra, the city says is to "get it done." 

Mohammed Nuru gives a thumbs up during a 2016 Arbor Day presentation.

He oversees a 1,600-member workforce and a $312 million annual operating budget.

Nuru said that he has boosted San Francisco's greening practices; created training and jobs opportunities and improved the cleanliness of San Francisco neighborhoods.

Nuru is also credited for launching a specialized team, known as the Hot Spots crew, to clean homeless encampments on a daily basis.

He also assigned a team of architects, engineers, landscape architects and project managers to design and deliver San Francisco’s innovative Navigation Centers  ̶  to be welcoming shelters for people and their pets with on-site support services.

Bovis is the longtime owner of Lefty O'Doul's, which every year hosts an annual toy drive at Christmas. Both men are expected back in court Feb. 6. 

The Department of Public Works will proceed for now under the direction of Acting Director Alaric Degrafinried.