San Francisco’s corruption scandal is the dumpster fire that keeps on giving — and this time, the scandal may literally be about dumpsters.
New revelations Thursday suggest more San Francisco employees may have been wined, dined, or otherwise been gifted goods by developers to secure contracts with The City than were already known.
To wit, the City Attorney’s Office on Thursday issued 14 more subpoenas in their investigation into the allegations surrounding former Public Works director Mohammed Nuru, this time targeting a trash can company The City granted a $5.2 million contract to in 2015, Alternate Choice LLC.
That’s on top of the ten subpoenas The City Attorney’s Office issued two weeks ago to nonprofits, city contractors and entities including PG&E, that they believe may have illegally funneled money to city departments or officials.
The City Attorney also subpoenaed various developers on Thursday, requesting any documents that might show billionaire developer Zhang Li sought to influence San Francisco officers or employees.
“Make no mistake, we’re following the evidence wherever it leads,” Herrera said. “We’re not going to stop until we get to the bottom of this.”
Zhang Li was on Forbes’ Magazine’s “China Rich List 2019,” where he is listed as having a net worth of $3 billion. At the end of January, the U.S. Attorney’s office alleged Li wined and dined Nuru in China to secure his help in obtaining needed approvals for a mixed-use project at 555 Fulton St.
The City Attorney’s Office is also seeking communications, fiscal records and approval documents related to the 555 Fulton development, including of Li’s companies, Z&L Properties and Z&L Realty.
Nuru enjoyed lavish seven-star hotel stays, trips to a spa, the whole red carpet treatment. The subpoenas specifically ask for any “evidence” that Li provided a “thing or service of value” to San Francisco employees or officials, or their family members, including, but not limited to, “money, material goods, travel, meals, and accommodations.”
But wait, there’s more!
Many of the entities subpoenaed also have ties to local permit expediter Walter Wong, including Jaidan Construction, Jaidan International Ventures, W Wong Construction, and Alternate Choice LLC. Other subpeonaed entities include 555 Fulton Partner, 555 Fulton St. Development, 555 Fulton St. Holdings, BKF Engineers, FPC Builders, SGHRC, and Snyergy California.
Alternate Choice, in particular, held the $5.2 million trash can contract, and was a subject of inquiry at the Board of Supervisors just this week. But I’ll get back to that in a moment.
Wong is a longtime compatriot of the late Rose Pak, and a man who made much of his name and reputation in San Francisco helping developers navigate our labyrinthine permit process — for a price — in a legal, regulated profession called permit expediting.
As this column revealed in January, the FBI raided Wong’s offices the same day Nuru’s arrest was announced. The connections are implied, but obvious. Wong had many ties to Nuru, and his associates described them to me as the best of friends.
The subpoenas the City Attorney’s Office issued today also seek evidence Wong provided meals or gifts to city employees.
Getting back to that dumpster fire: For years, the Board of Supervisors pushed Nuru to expand the number of Big Belly trash cans in San Francisco. While trash spills out of the other trash cans The City uses, littering neighborhoods large and small, the Big Belly trash cans, close in a way that keeps trash in.
But no matter how hard the board pushed Nuru, he always pushed back on Big Belly. Well, now it looks like he may have been defending Alternate Choice LLC because of its ties to Wong, who may have connected Nuru to the billionaire, Li.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin told me Nuru’s pushback used to make absolutely no sense.
“He pushed back in ways that defied reason,” Peskin said. “After he was arrested, it occurred to me there was something wrong there.”
Peskin is holding a hearing at City Hall next week to look into toilet contracts and trash can contracts approved by Public Works under Nuru, and to see if they need to be cancelled. Some may already have expired, he told me.
“Since the late 1800s there have been many systems put in place to stop or impede insider contracts or government corruption. They would appear to have failed in this instance,” Peskin said. “What systems do we need to put in place to make sure this never happens again?”
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.