Former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, pictured in San Francisco in February 2020, was the first person arrested in connection with a widening corruption investigation by federal authorities.

City attorney seeks to block contractor in Nuru scandal from obtaining government contracts

AzulWorks’ attorney calls the effort ‘a drastic measure that is unwarranted’

City Attorney Dennis Herrera has moved to prohibit AzulWorks, Inc. and its vice president Balmore Hernandez from doing business with The City after he was federally charged with bribing former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru.

Herrera initiated administrative debarment proceedings Monday that would prevent the construction company and Hernandez from competing for a city contract for five years, the maximum allowed under law, the City Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

Hernandez, a former Public Works employee, was charged by the U.S. Attorney last month with bribery. He faces up to 10 years in prison. An FBI affidavit alleges that Hernandez provided Nuru with more than $250,000 in gifts of materials and labor since late 2016 for his Northern California vacation home in exchange for help in landing city contracts. Gifts include a $40,000 tractor.

“San Francisco and its residents do not need to sit idly by and wait for Hernandez’s criminal proceedings to play out,” Herrera wrote in an administrative filing. “The people of San Francisco, including its taxpayers, deserve the assurance of clean contracting and a level competitive playing field now.”

While seeking such a ban is usually reserved for after there is a conviction, Herrera notes that in the affidavit “Hernandez himself admits” that he paid for $20,000 in construction and electrical work on Nuru’s vacation home.

Hernandez “claimed his assistance with the vacation home was ‘as a friend,’ and had been limited to reviewing construction plans and paying two invoices,” the FBI affidavit said.

The debarment process requires the City Controller’s Office to appoint a hearing officer to determine whether to grant the ban.

With the assistance of the City Attorney’s Office, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission previously moved to block AzulWorks from acting as a subcontractor on a current public project, which would have paid the company $752,000. The company was given 15 days, until Monday, to appeal the decision but did not protest, SFPUC spokesperson Will Reisman told the San Francisco Examiner Monday.

Herrera said in the filing that “AzulWorks directly benefited from these unlawful gifts to Nuru.”

“During the three-year period from July 2017 to June 2020, AzulWorks was directly paid more than $20 million by San Francisco, and received more as a subcontractor on San Francisco projects,” he said.

A person who answered the phone at AzulWorks Tuesday did not identify themselves but said, “We have no comment, thank you,” and hung up the phone.

An attorney for Hernandez told the Examiner in an email Wednesday that they would contest the debarment.

“Azul Works employs and supports many families and intends to continue doing so,”Hernandez’s attorney Julia Jayne said. “And thus, during these difficult times, shutting Azul Works out of bidding for city contracts for five years is a drastic measure that is unwarranted.”

Herrera wrote that “as a public contractor, Hernandez had no legal basis to provide tens of thousands of secret payments for the personal benefit of the head of a department that was providing and overseeing his company contracts.

“This collusion undermines public trust in city contracting, is unfair to the taxpayers, and unfair to legitimate contractors competing for public contracts.”



This story has been updated to include additional comment.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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