Airport official resigns in wake of Nuru public corruption probe

Airport Commissioner Linda Crayton has resigned after the release of allegations that Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and restaurauter Nick Bovis attempted to bribe her over an airport contract. (Courtesy photo)

A San Francisco airport commissioner has resigned after being caught up in an FBI public corruption investigation that ensnared one of the highest-ranking officials in The City and a local restaurateur.

Linda Crayton, a longtime member of the Airport Commission who was first appointed in 1996 by then-Mayor Willie Brown, submitted a letter of resignation to Mayor London Breed on Wednesday citing health concerns.

Her resignation comes on the heels of federal authorities unsealing a lengthy criminal complaint Tuesday against Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and Nick Bovis, the owner of famed sports bar Lefty O’Doul’s. Nuru was placed on administrative leave Monday evening.

Nuru and Bovis allegedly plotted to bribe Crayton with $5,000 to help secure a lucrative restaurant lease at San Francisco International Airport. The duo met with Crayton to discuss the matter, but Crayton did not accept the cash and is not charged with a crime.

However, FBI Special Agent James A. Folger concluded that her presence at meetings with Nuru and Bovis violated local “rules barring communication with members of the Airport Commission seeking to influence the outcome of the selection process,” he wrote in the complaint.

But Crayton’s attorney, Randy Knox, disputed that conclusion and said his client “did nothing wrong.”

“She is innocent of all wrongdoing,” Knox said. “She will cooperate fully with any investigation.”

Knox said that “her meetings with them were to gather and furnish information in connection with the [Request for Proposals] process.”

“She was not meeting with them to influence the official outcome of the RFP,” he said.

In her resignation letter, Crayton does not mention the federal complaint but said she has been struggling with multiple severe medical conditions.

“The bottom line is, the demands of my medical treatment have increased to the point that I cannot continue to serve on the commission,” Crayton said.

Crayton is not mentioned by name in the complaint, but Knox confirmed that she is the unnamed individual referred to as “Airport Commissioner 1.”

The alleged scheme was one of five detailed in the criminal complaint based on evidence gathered through FBI informants, wiretaps and recorded calls.

The airport scheme was used by federal prosecutors to charge Nuru and Bovis with wire fraud. Nuru has also been charged with false statements for allegedly lying to the FBI.

“We take the allegations that Mr. Nuru attempted to influence airport contracting processes very seriously,” Airport Director Ivar Satero said in a statement. “We are deeply concerned by this effort to circumvent our selection process.”

Satero said the airport will cooperate with any city review of its contracts.

The complaint alleges that Nuru and Bovis wanted to bribe Crayton because she controlled two other votes on the five-member airport commission. Bovis called Crayton the “shot caller.”

The scheme began to unfold in January 2018 when Bovis allegedly met with two confidential FBI informants at the Broadway Grill, his restaurant in Burlingame, according to the complaint.

Bovis allegedly told the informants he would leverage his resources at City Hall to “determine how to guarantee” a space at SFO where he could open a new branch of his Polk Street chicken restaurant, the Spinnerie.

“I’m gonna ask [Nuru] about the airport and I’ll get exact details,” Bovis allegedly told the informants, adding that Nuru “knows how to cover his back on all this stuff so it’s not a conflict or nothing.”

After being introduced by Nuru, Bovis and Crayton allegedly met for dinner and talked about the lease over the phone in February.

Then at a March dinner at the Broadway Grill, Bovis met the informants and an undercover FBI employee who was posing as a money lender. Crayton was supposed to be at the dinner but was “not in good health.”

When one of the informants asked if Nuru would want something in return, Bovis allegedly said, “I’ll take care of him.”

At that same dinner, Nuru and Bovis allegedly suggested offering Crayton a free trip to another city or a donation to a charitable group of her choosing.

Later in a phone call, the duo allegedly discussed giving her a cash bribe.

“[Nuru] said, ‘if you give me like $5,000 bucks cash for her and send her off to [another city] to meet you guys and I’ll get it taken care of,’” Bovis allegedly recounted to an informant. “And I said ‘OK.”’

In April, Bovis allegedly brought an envelope full of cash with him to a dinner with the informants, an undercover FBI employee, Nuru and Crayton. But there seemed to be confusion over whether to offer Crayton the money.

When one of the informants then discreetly mentioned the $5,000 to Nuru, Crayton may have heard their exchange, the complaint alleges.

“You don’t need to do anything,” Crayton allegedly said. “You don’t even need to feed me, this is what I’m supposed to do.”

“This is insane,” she added.

Bovis never obtained a lease at SFO, according to the airport. The complaint says he became suspicious of the FBI undercover.

“Well, in my brain,” Bovis allegedly told the undercover, “what if this is some sort of FBI sting or something?”

This story has been updated.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

jsabatini@sfexaminer.comBay Area NewsPoliticssan francisco newstransport-featured

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