Mere days after Mayor London Breed revealed she took a potentially illegal $5,600 gift from disgraced former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, this column can report another person connected to Nuru’s FBI corruption investigation was directed to give a potentially illegal gift to the mayor.
Nick Bovis, the owner of Lefty O’Doul’s restaurant who was arrested alongside Nuru for attempting to bribe an airport commissioner, was solely named on an invoice to pay for Breed’s San Francisco Pride Parade float in 2015, when she was on the Board of Supervisors.
That payment, if completed, was not reported and may constitute an illegal gift.
Bovis’ name is on Breed’s invoice at East West (“The Parade Guys!”) which was obtained by this columnist from a source who wished their identity to be withheld, for fear of reprisal.
East West could not confirm if Bovis ultimately paid for Breed’s float in 2015, claiming such research would be too laborious. They did confirm, however, that, “We do floats for her all the time.”
Bovis was directed in a 2015 email to pay $1,250 for Breed’s Pride Parade float, which in other years she paid for with various campaign bank accounts.
When I asked Breed directly who paid for her Pride float in 2015, she told me, “I mean, I paid for my Pride floats. And I’d have to go back to provide the specifics.”
Taking a cue from the mayor, I went back to find the specifics myself, and what they suggest is that Breed, in fact, did not pay for her own float in 2015, specifically — or at least there’s no clear record of it.
Filings with the Ethics Commission show that in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 Breed paid for her pride floats using campaign funding from her supervisor campaign accounts and her Democratic Party board accounts.
Breed paid for her own pride float every year except 2015, when Bovis was sent the invoice for Breed’s float.
Nuru and Bovis made headlines at the end of January when the U.S. Attorney’s Office unsealed a 75-page complaint alleging various schemes from the two men, which also included a billionaire from China flying Nuru to hotels and spas internationally to gain his help in pushing through a mixed-use development at 555 Fulton St.
In an effort to show full transparency as that FBI investigation unfolds, last Friday Breed revealed Nuru paid roughly $5,600 to repair her car in 2019 and also provide her a rental car.
She also mentioned a romantic relationship with Nuru, to which many in The City responded with a big “Who cares?” That’s entirely fair. The gift, which supervisors Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney called “illegal,” was the real news.
Supervisors Dean Preston and Aaron Peskin called on Breed to go before the Board of Supervisors in a public hearing and give a full accounting of the gifts she’s taken, and to reveal other connections to the entities and people named in the FBI investigation.
That gift from Nuru was clearly illegal, according to the supervisors and my own reading of local ethics laws, as it constituted a gift from a subordinate, which is explicitly banned.
San Francisco ethics laws bar any gifts to a public official over $500. There are some exceptions, including gifts from long-time personal friends, campaign contributions — which the Pride Parade float was not reported as in 2015 — or tickets to an event with a ceremonial role.
For instance, if Pride comped Breed a ticket to a Pride event, like a dance, that would be legal.
This latest gift from Bovis, frankly, is one where Breed has more legal loopholes to slip through.
Based on my research, if this were after 2016, when Breed ran for the Democratic Party board, she could claim it was an accidentally unreported campaign contribution to her Democratic Party board account, which problematically allows contributions in any amount, whereas contributions to supervisor campaigns have a strict $500 limit.
That would carry some penalties, but would not be legally damning. Unfortunately for her, the gift from Bovis came 6 months before she ever launched a Democratic Party board run.
Her spokesperson, Jeff Cretan, said that the Mayor’s Office needed to conduct more research to figure out who paid for their 2015 Pride float, and also noted some Pride Parade expenses are “behest payments.” But frankly, that’s ridiculous on its face — behest payments are where an official directs donations on an organization’s behalf; for instance, if Breed asked Bovis to donate to an AIDS research fund, that would be a behest payment.
But this was an ask to pay for her own float, a red, glittery vehicle with a shiny rainbow bridge, adorned with signs from the neighborhoods Breed represented as a member of the Board of Supervisors, like the Lower Haight and the Fillmore. That float is advertising her supervisor seat to Breed’s benefit, not someone else’s.
Bovis was sent the invoice for the float by Lee Houskeeper, a media impresario who is personal friends with Breed. Houskeeper CC’d Breed’s personal gmail account on the invoice request to Bovis, with the subject heading “Invoice: London’s Pride Float,” and asks Bovis to notify him when a check is out.
When asked if Bovis’ payment ultimately went through, Houskeeper said he could not remember.
And while yes, in the grand scheme of things, $1,250 doesn’t sound like a helluva lot, you have to remember, Breed has been under intense scrutiny after revealing the $5,600 gift from her subordinate, Nuru, last Friday.
That gift brought up a larger question — does Breed regularly accept gifts that flout the law?
It was that question that prompted Supervisor Hillary Ronen to call on Breed to resign.
“I recognize (it) is the extreme response,” Ronen told me Tuesday. But “it is because that amount of corruption, everyday corruption, has been so normalized.”
When even small gifts that seemingly flout the law happen so routinely, it erodes faith in government, Ronen said.
“The fact that it’s so commonplace and at times relatively low level, it sends the signal that its OK,” she said.
And you know what? Not all supervisors rent Pride Parade floats in the first place. State Sen. Scott Wiener rents a large pickup truck that he stands in, using his own campaign funds — an entirely legal practice.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman usually just walks — no muss, no fuss, and no questionable payments required.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional information.