A KQED review of federal court filings and over 3,000 pages of documents obtained from San Francisco’s Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure has revealed new details about business relationships between real estate developer Lennar Urban and several individuals who have been investigated by the FBI.
The $8 billion redevelopment of the former Navy shipyard in Hunters Point and former stadium site in Candlestick Point by Lennar is expected to create a new neighborhood on the southeastern waterfront with 12,000 units of housing and 3 million square feet of office space. Several people who have contracted with Lennar and city programs set up around the massive San Francisco Shipyard development have been investigated by local and federal law enforcement under suspicion of money laundering, bid rigging and corruption.
District Attorney George Gascón in January 2016 announced bribery and money-laundering charges against Keith Jackson, Zula Jones and Nazly Mohajer, three former fundraisers for Mayor Ed Lee. The evidence of the alleged bribery has been placed under seal, but the case appears to stem from the sprawling FBI investigation that originally focused on crime boss Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow.
Court filings show that Jackson first met Chow on behalf of Lennar sometime before June 6, 2010. The developer had a long-running public health dispute with the Nation of Islam over the Hunters Point project that Jackson believed Chow could help resolve, according to a sentencing memo by Jackson’s attorney.
While Jackson went on to become a consultant for Chow’s organization, and participated in a range of illegal activities with former state Sen. Leland Yee and undercover FBI agents, Lennar continued to be his main client.
The developer paid Jackson $496,000 from 2010 through 2014, according to a court filing from U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch. Jackson pleaded guilty to racketeering in federal court and was sentenced to nine years in prison in February.
Lennar has also entered into contracts with Derf Butler, who was implicated in bid rigging and campaign money-laundering schemes with Jackson in a federal court filing by Chow’s attorneys in August 2015. Jones and Mohajer were first publicly identified as subjects of an FBI investigation in the same filing.
Butler was not indicted and his firm, Butler Enterprise Group, remains a consultant for the developer. Lennar spokesman David Satterfield said Lennar is satisfied with the work of Butler’s firm on the Shipyard.
“Butler Enterprise Group plays no role in the awarding of contracts,” Satterfield said.
However, Butler Enterprise Group receives $250,000 per year to operate the Construction Assistance Program, mandated in Lennar’s development agreement with the city. Its duties include helping local companies “navigating through the process of contracting.” The Construction Assistance Program is meant to help contractors from San Francisco, and Bayview-Hunters Point in particular, compete with larger firms.
In November 2015, Butler told the Commission on Community Investment and Infrastructure that his firm had held over 368 pre-bid meetings and 150 “one-on-one counseling and technical assistance sessions helping people put together bids.”
In addition, emails obtained through a public records request show that Butler has been a primary point of contact between Lennar and local builders and suppliers bidding for contracts for the Shipyard project. In one example from 2013, after the mayor’s office asked Lennar for information on local contracting, Lennar executive Danny Cooke asked Butler to write the report. Butler was also dispatched by Cooke to meet with local supplier DLD Lumber during a touchy dispute later that year.
Butler Enterprise Group is also involved in trucking at the Shipyard site and at Candlestick Point. A presentation prepared for the February 2015 meeting of the Mayor’s Hunters Point Shipyard Citizens Advisory Committee states that “all trucks required by Contractors/subcontractor will be dispatched through the Trucking Administration Program." Emails show Butler’s firm was involved in the Trucking Administration Program as of June 2014.
Dr. Veronica Hunnicutt, chair of the advisory committee, contacted Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure Executive Director Tiffany Bohee for assistance after receiving an unsolicited gift from Butler in 2013.
“I do not solicit gifts, nor do I want them,” wrote Hunnicutt to an aide. “There are strict conflict of interest protocol/laws in place for people who serve on City committees and Commissions. I do not intend to be caught up in any chicanery by members of the community or by contractors by accepting gifts from City program coordinators.”
Alex Jones, owner of Three Brothers Electrical Contractors, said the Construction Assistance Program was helpful only for contractors so small they could do just $50,000 to $100,000 worth of work a year. Three Brothers has a $5.3 million contract for work on Block 53 of the Shipyard project. “If you can do two, three million dollars worth of work, you don’t really need the CAP office,” said Jones. “It can be useful, it’s been useful, but it’s not like I’m getting what I need from the CAP office.”
Other local contractors who have won work on the Shipyard project questioned the usefulness of the program. Clyde Miller, vice president of Astron Development, said he thought Butler Enterprise Group’s only job was to send out bid announcements. Willie McGary, owner of Hercules Builders, said that Butler helped him by setting up a meeting with Cahill Contractors, but also said that he avoided talking to Butler.
“I always assume he’s wearing a wire,” said McGary.
Butler was charged with counterfeiting in 1996, and was sentenced to one month in prison after cooperating with federal prosecutors. He and his wife founded Butler Enterprise Group in 1997, according to the company’s website.
Butler did not initially respond to emailed questions about the FBI investigation, the district attorney’s charges against Jackson, and contract compliance at the Shipyard. He responded via email to a note left at his office: “I received your note, and I have no comments.”
Jackson and Butler were not the only people close to the Shipyard development caught up in the FBI investigation. Local prosecutors alleged earlier this year that former Lennar contract compliance employee Terry Mitchell was a “straw donor” who helped Jackson conceal the source of illegal campaign donations to a political candidate.
Jackson faces bribery and money-laundering charges but Mitchell has not been charged. When the Examiner called Mitchell for comment in January, he said, “I am not interested in talking to you about any of that. No thank you.”
Emails obtained by KQED reveal that Mitchell abruptly left the company shortly after Jackson’s indictment in April 2014.
“We do not discuss personnel matters publicly," Lennar spokesman Satterfield said. "We have no firsthand knowledge or information about the allegations.”
One of Jackson’s co-defendants in the bribery case also has a connection to the Shipyard development. One of two lucrative community builder designations for a 74-unit residential block of the Shipyard was awarded to Al Norman Development, owned by local contractor Al Norman, who once faced criminal charges alongside Zula Jones.
“A selection panel comprised of city officials and Lennar representatives chose community builders after an extensive application process,” said Satterfield. “The selected community builders were then approved by the Mayor’s Citizens Advisory Committee.”
In 2000, Jones, Norman and three executives from San Leandro construction firm Scott Co. were indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of defrauding the city’s affirmative action program through a front company, Scott-Norman Mechanical. Evidence from Jones’ office was ultimately suppressed, and charges against Jones and Norman were dropped in 2002.
Scott Co. was fined $1.5 million and shut down operations in 2003. Scott Co. executive vice president Robert “Broadway Bob” Nurisso pleaded guilty and was sentenced to house arrest. After Scott Co. shut down, Nurisso quickly absorbed many of the company’s former assets into a new company he formed with his son, Broadway Mechanical-Contractors, according to Broadway’s website.
Before the company’s demise, Scott-Norman Mechanical had won at least $55.1 million in airport contracts and a $5.9 million BART contract earmarked for legitimate minority-owned businesses, according to the Examiner.
Norman and his wife were paid at least $2.3 million for their role in the joint venture, including 1 percent to 1.9 percent of gross revenue “for qualifying the company as a minority-owned business,” which Scott Co. claimed the Normans verbally agreed to, and $1.5 million for agreeing to step down from the company.
Norman was quoted in the Chronicle commenting positively on Lennar’s Candlestick Point development after his company’s selection as a community builder on the Shipyard. Norman was described in the article as the president of the Bayview Merchants Association, rather than a business partner with Lennar with significant financial interests at stake.
Norman did not respond to emailed questions.
Notes: In response to this story, Lennar spokesman David Satterfield sent KQED the following comment: "In reading the story, there’s no indication that any of that 'money laundering, bid rigging and corruption' had anything to do with the Shipyard or Lennar."
An earlier version of this article referenced a memo written in October 2014 by Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure executive director Tiffany Bohee which stated that Al Norman was a principal in Marinship Development, the second community developer on Block 52 of the Shipyard. Derek Smith, the owner of Marinship Development, vigorously denies that Norman has ever been involved in Marinship Development and provided a document showing Lennar had formed a development agreement with two separate companies, Marinship Development and Al Norman Development. State records show that Al Norman Development was registered in October 2015. Multiple efforts to reach Bohee and Norman for comment were unsuccessful.