Departing U.S. attorney predicts corruption probe will continue

David Anderson shook up City Hall as top federal prosecutor

U.S. Attorney David Anderson’s last day in office is Sunday, but the public corruption investigation that rattled City Hall under his watch is expected to continue on without him.

Anderson was among the dozens of U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Donald Trump who were asked to resign earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Justice as the White House changed hands.

Since taking office in January 2019 as the top federal prosecutor overseeing 15 counties in Northern California, Anderson has clamped down on pay-to-play politics as well as drug dealing in the Tenderloin.

The U.S. attorney is perhaps best known for bringing corruption charges against 10 defendants including city officials and contractors since last January, beginning with the fraud case against former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru.

“We put a massive number of [assistant U.S. attorneys] on this one investigation,” Anderson said. “Pretty quickly what we discovered was for every case that we charged, there was lots to follow up on, lots to pursue.”

While Anderson is leaving, none of the assistant U.S. attorneys who worked under him are “swapping out,” he said. “That sustained effort into public corruption in San Francisco I predict will continue.”

His office has previously indicated that Harlan Kelly, the former Public Utilities Commission chief accused last November of taking bribes, would not be the last defendant charged in the matter.

During the Feb. 11 sentencing hearing for Florence Kong, the former contractor who admitted to bribing Nuru with an expensive watch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Joiner said the investigation was ongoing.

“There will be more individuals who will be charged as part of this corruption probe,” Joiner said. He asked the judge to make an example of Kong, who was sentenced to prison for a year and a day.

Supervisor Matt Haney, one of the loudest voices calling for changes in light of the scandal, said Anderson will be remembered for his focus on corruption.

The investigation has “shaken” City Hall and “hopefully woken people up to how endemic this corrosive corruption has been,” Haney said.

“I hope that it leads to a lot of change within city government to more transparency and accountability,” Haney said. “I hope that the consequence of what he did will be that in the future we don’t need a U.S. attorney to come in, but rather that San Francisco cleans house and holds itself to a higher standard.”

Anderson is planning to return to private practice following his resignation. A lifelong Republican, he has served three stints with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, beginning as a line prosecutor from 1998 to 2002.

“I’ve always tried when taking one of these prosecution jobs to be as nonpolitical as I can be,” Anderson said.

In August 2019, Anderson launched the Federal Initiative for the Tenderloin to break up drug trafficking rings in the neighborhood, focusing on dealers as fentanyl overdose deaths exploded in San Francisco.

Anderson was inspired in part by staffers who felt like they had to “run a gauntlet of crime” just getting between BART and the federal courthouse on Golden Gate Avenue, he said.

“This was not the Tenderloin of 10 or 20 years ago,” Anderson said. “Something new and different was going on.”

Anderson said fentanyl had incapacitated users and made dealers more predatory. While his initiative has been criticized as a heavy handed continuation of the War on Drugs, he said he focused only on the dealers.

“I look at the people I see on the streets who are engaged in drug use, and I look at them and have tremendous compassion,” Anderson said.

The initiative has since resulted in a range of charges as serious as attempted murder against 244 defendants as of Friday, according to his office.

Anderson said he is also proud of having boosted outreach between his office and local jurisdictions during his tenure by assigning an assistant U.S. attorney to each of the 15 counties in his district.

He also designated 25 prosecutors as experts in a range of categories from bankruptcy fraud to the “dark net.”

“The result is that is that we ended up bringing some of the biggest, most meaningful cases that are out there,” Anderson said, pointing to cases like the seizure of Bitcoins worth more than $1 billion.

Anderson will be replaced by his second in command, Stephanie Hinds, until his permanent successor is nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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