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Some City Leaders 'Not Surprised' by FBI Arrest of SF Official

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San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru speaks to reporters during an event at the Transbay Terminal on Jan. 22, 2020. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock stand behind him. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

News of the FBI's arrest last night of Mohammed Nuru, the charismatic director of San Francisco's Public Works department, has inspired a range of reactions among city leaders who crossed paths with him.

Nuru and Nick Bovis, owner of Lefty O'Douls bar and restaurant, are alleged to have participated in several public corruption "schemes," including ones involving the leasing of restaurant space at SFO and attempts to influence contracts related to homeless shelters and public restrooms.

"I'm not surprised," said Angela Alioto, former city supervisor and mayoral candidate, who has called for Nuru's replacement several times over the past few years. Millions of dollars in city contracts awarded by Public Works under Nuru, Alioto said, "haven't been audited and scrutinized by any of the department heads or the board of supervisors." She added, "Many of them were sole-source contracts when it was not sole source job. It should have been competitively bid."

Supervisor Matt Haney agreed, noting what he considered a severe lack of accountability.

"The Department of Public Works itself is a behemoth controlling vast areas of San Francisco government, and yet it lacks basic public accountability, like an oversight commission — a basic tool of good governance that most departments already have — to set standards and review contracts. It is one of the largest, last standing departments to lack this level of public oversight and accountability," he said in a statement. "The result has been a recipe for corruption and a complete failure to keep our streets clean. ... The culture of pay to play politics at City Hall must end."

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When questioned about the arrest, Mayor London Breed was far more reticent than some of her City Hall colleagues, declining to say whether she intended to appoint an interim Public Works director.

"It is of course important that we work with the city attorney and our controller's office to fully cooperate with the FBI on this particular investigation to ensure public trust and full transparency," she told reporters on Monday, before full details of the allegations were disclosed on Monday.

Supervisor Gordon Mar said Nuru's arrest underscores the urgency to conduct thorough departmental audits.

"I am very concerned if the charges do relate to illegal or criminal activities in our contracting," Mar said. "We're already doing audits of some other departments, like the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. The Department of Public Works wasn't necessarily on our list of departments to do an audit, but I would consider ... [making] it a higher priority."

For David Anderson, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, the arrest signifies a serious betrayal of public trust.

"The complaint alleges corruption, bribery [and] side deals by one of San Francisco's highest ranking public employees," Anderson said. "Federal law gives the citizens of San Francisco a right to honest services from their public officials. San Francisco has been betrayed, as alleged in the complaint."


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