SF Public Works director, associate, charged in homeless bathroom plot

story by TJ Johnston

Photo illustration by Upzone the Memes

Toilets and small shelters for San Francisco’s unhoused folk are part of a federal probe on corruption involving a City official.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced on January 27 that Mohammed Nuru, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Works, has been charged with honest services wire fraud in an alleged bribery scheme involving a member of the City’s Airport Commission.

He was arrested yesterday (Jan. 28), but was previously arrested five days earlier for “falsely denying (the disclosure of) an investigation,” U.S. Attorney David Anderson told reporters at a press conference. Nuru was arraigned and released on a $2 million bond, and is on administrative leave from his post.

The criminal complaint also names Nick James Bovis, a restaurateur who owns Lefty O’Doul’s, the Gold Dust Lounge and The Broadway Grill. It also enumerated five separate schemes involving Nuru and Bovis.

While authorities focused attention to the case focused on the attempt to bribe an unnamed airport commissioner, the complaint also alleges that Nuru provided Bovis inside information on City projects on portable bathroom trailers and tiny housing units so that contracts would be awarded to Tiny Potties, a business Bovis owns. It details conversations where Nuru urged Bovis and Public Works staff to contact him at his personal email, covering up any contact from public records laws and avoid any real competitive bidding.

Nuru’s political connections has long been attributed to his long tenure at Public Works: Then-mayor Willie Brown appointed him as assistant director in 2000. Eleven years later, Mayor Ed Lee — who was his former superior at Public Works — tapped him as head of the department.

Last year, homeless advocates protested outside the department’s storage yard for allowing employees to trash unhoused people’s survival gear and prized possessions during encampment sweeps. Nuru denied that the employees flouted his department’s policy of “bagging and tagging” the property of homeless people. Despite ample recorded evidence of City employees disposing property and disregarding its own rules, the department continues this practice, and Mayor London Breed asserts that the City doesn’t sweep encampments.

Before taking his City post, Nuru ran the nonprofit San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG), which the City contracted to manage community gardens. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Nuru pressured employees to campaign for Mayor Brown’s re-election on company time.

Nuru and Bovis’ next court appearance will be on February 6.

The STREET SHEET is a San Francisco-based street newspaper published by the Coalition on Homelessness, dedicated to covering issues of homelessness and poverty.

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