It’s the Ides of March in 2021, and the derogatory fortune cookie motto “May you live in interesting times” makes all too much sense.
What a thrill it is nowadays to know that the culprit is the president’s wild dog, and not the president himself, when a “biting incident” occurs in the White House. What a thrill it is these days to hear from people being shot on the 24th and Capp and to know it is a vaccination site.
These are the less interesting times that people yearn for. But if we long for a return to normal, we should remember that in San Francisco 2020 was not only determined by Covid, but also by corruption. In January last year, the government arrested former public works chief Mohammed Nuru and charged him with a plan of bribery – and the dominoes kept falling for the following year and in the subsequent rotation. So far, five department heads have been evicted from office, three have been indicted by the federal government and one pleaded guilty and agreed to work with investigators (more on this in a moment).
However, it remains to be seen how thoroughly San Francisco will hold itself accountable – and how it will be held accountable to hold itself accountable.
But whatever our new normal is, it won’t be a straight facsimile of the past. Too many fires are burning now. Too many eyes are looking now Too many shoes have yet to fall.
Photo by Mimi Chakarova
Because of this, your humble narrator has learned from multiple sources that the prosecution is interviewing workers from the building inspection department.
This is no small matter. A prosecutor’s investigation in March 2020 led to the overthrow of DBI chief Tom Hui after it was revealed that he had essentially reorganized the operations of the department for years to allow expediter and fixer Walter Wong.
Hui and Wong were of course waist high in the Nuru scandal. Hui allegedly “literally stood over the shoulders” of the controversial 555 Fulton Street project “sooner than it should have been done”. This is the sclerotic development of the Chinese billionaire Zhang Li, who allegedly gave Nuru “some stone” and high-end liquor on a lavish Chinese junket arranged by Wong. Nuru allegedly pulled strings to move this project forward, and Wong – of course – got his permission.
Mission Local learned that FBI agents visited the building inspection department in February 2020 after files for the 555 Fulton project disappeared – and then reappeared – from the DBI’s computer system.
So, it all happened. And now several sources tell us that the prosecutor is poking around in the construction department.
The meaning here is that the public prosecutor files criminal charges while the public prosecutor is working in civil matters. The difference between a “gift” and a “bribe” can be significant.
The prosecutor’s office refused to confirm or deny that it was interviewing construction department officials. As expected.
It remains to be seen which cases may be directed against the construction department. A little free piece of advice to those involved, if you allow it – get a criminal defense attorney, not a civil attorney.
The difference can be significant.
Contractor and approval expediter Walter Wong, right, pictured here in 2018 with ex-chief for public works Mohammed Nuru. Photo by Susana Bates for Drew Alitzer Photography.
In October, Mission Local found that the vast majority of funding in Nuru-controlled nonprofit slush funds came from Recology. Nuru had an outsized role in determining the rate of trash paid by hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans – and if you didn’t know, while that money was pouring into his slush funds, your rate of trash was increased by about 20 percent.
In November, the government accused a former Recology executive that he and Nuru – with knowledge of Recology supervisors – worked together to increase those new garbage rates in blatant consideration that included those slush funds and employment for Nuru’s son.
When prosecutor Dennis Herrera gave the world a few hours on March 4th to speculate about which entity would be the subject of “great development” in the ongoing campaign for the public integrity of his office – the smart money pointed to the blue- , Black, and green trash cans.
Ding, ding, ding: Recology has agreed to reimburse the Franciscans around $ 95 million in the settlement announced by the prosecutor. The company skipped revenue when tabulating its 2017 rate hike request, charging – and receiving – more than it was entitled to.
So you will get a refund. Great. There are still a lot of questions, however: Mission Local received an email dated January 2019 in which Recology contacted former Public Works Department Treasurer Ann Carey and her current Treasurer, Julia Dawson, and set out the discrepancy that led to it resulted in the Franciscans being overwhelmed by tens of millions of dollars. (Recology has also claimed to have informed members of the Environment Department years ago – despite refusing to provide written evidence, and the Environment Department denies this.)
This isn’t exculpatory evidence for Recology, who chose to charge the inflated rates for years until the prosecutor stepped in. Rather, it paints a darker picture and spreads the blame – for it is now clear that city officials knew the San Franciscans have been overloaded and nothing has been done for years.
On the phone, Carey, who is now retired, declined to comment and referred us to Dawson – who allegedly had the lead on the matter. Our calls and emails to Dawson were returned by Rachel Gordon, Public Works spokeswoman. Her statement: “We are actively conducting an internal investigation into the discology discrepancy and are cooperating with external investigations into this matter. We have no further comments at this time.”
Because of me. We’ll certainly hear more later.
A 2016 garbage fire provides a fitting analogy for Recology’s 2021 settlement with the city. Photo by George Lipp
Around 160,000 interest payers in San Francisco who will receive nearly $ 95 million through September is big news. But perhaps the biggest development in San Francisco’s Smörgåsbord of corruption last week was Sandra Zuniga, who pleaded guilty to a long-standing money laundering conspiracy and agreed to work with federal investigators.
Zuniga was the former head of Mayor London Breed’s Office of Neighborhood Services and head of the city’s “Fix-It” program. Yes, these are two different jobs – with a total salary and benefits of just under $ 225,000. Like Carson Daly, Zuniga was extremely overworked.
In addition to these jobs, Zuniga was also “GIRLFRIEND 1” in the indictments against Nuru et al. She was the one that Nuru said on tap: “Don’t let your mouth run. I say that. “And” Don’t tell a lot of people. You have to watch out for this because that will get you in the end. ”
So it turns out that she heard some things. And seen some things: the $ 40,000 tractor that Nuru was allegedly bribed with by three contractors was delivered on her behalf. It also shows that Zuniga may be able to connect points for government that Nuru is unwilling to do for some reason.
The Justice Department found last week that Zuniga’s money laundering activities date back to “at least 2010”. This is much longer than the locals thought and dates back to Nuru’s time doing public works. Zuniga had time to do many things and hear many things and see many things. There is a lot of material for the government to look through.
After all, Zuniga worked in the mayor’s office. If – and this is a big (and unfounded) if – anything could go back to this office, then Zuniga might well have been able to know about it, too.
Harlan Kelly, right, and Mohammed Nuru in a 2017 tweeted photo from @mrcleansf, Nurus Account.
Another article. But you can handle it. It’s just gossamer.
Last week, an independent auditor from KPMG presented her findings to the PUC commission, in which she stated that former head of the public utilities commission, Harlan Kelly, had been pulled out of the FBI and charged with bribery, a “major weakness” of the EU represent finances of the department.
This conclusion was not particularly well received by the commissioners. That was a little strange. But it wasn’t the strangest: Auditor Lisa Avis noted that “PUC management has determined there is no financial impact” of Kelly’s alleged corruption.
First of all, it would be nice to look into this instead of taking the PUC management’s word for it. Second, the cost of corruption is all too obvious.
As we wrote in December:
The point in San Francisco is that contracts typically go to archipelagos of affiliated operators – and contractors who are unwilling to play this game are not at the end of the bidding, whatever comes. When a stock program designed to help small and local businesses is downgraded, the obvious losers are honest small and local businesses. But that’s not all.
“The cost of corruption is not measured by the money that is supposedly exchanged between Walter Wong and Harlan Kelly,” says Ali Altaha, managing director of construction management. “It can be measured by: How much does it cost taxpayers to build a project?”
Regardless of the competence and honesty of those who receive the contracts, the cost of doing business increases in an artificially limited pool of bidders. “They’ll name their price,” says Altaha.
At a more insane moment at the meeting, the PUC commission voted to accept work from AzulWorks company valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It did so despite the failure of AzulWorks to provide small businesses and / or minority-owned businesses with the requirement and agreed percentage of work in the workplace. AzulWorks was fined $ 4,700 for this – but received almost $ 700,000 nonetheless. That seems like pretty cute business for them.
AzulWorks is one of the companies anchored in the Nuru saga: its founder Balmore Hernandez, who allegedly teamed up with Nuru on a plan that dates back to 2013 to rig the bid for an asphalt plant, has a quarter of free or $ 1 million discounted labor at Nuru’s Ranch in exchange for city contracts he was not qualified for – and one of the three contractors who reportedly gave Nuru that tractor.
But wait – there’s more: In addition to that payday from the PUC, AzulWorks’ Recreation and Parks Division contract to build the lavish new tennis courts in Golden Gate Park was increased by $ 400,000 in November.
Very interesting. And those remain pretty interesting times.
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