Federal authorities have homed in on an apparent trail of donations from city contractors to nonprofits that paid for holiday parties and other perks for public employees in a widening San Francisco City Hall corruption probe, newly released records show.
Investigators subpoenaed a broad range of documents from Public Works in May seeking evidence of who paid for the holiday parties as well as picnics and other events held for city employees. The investigators are also in search of details on who at City Hall solicited the donations dating back to 2010.
The contributions have raised questions about whether the contractors received anything in return, like preferential treatment during the bidding process or other assistance with city business.
The subpoena was one of three released Wednesday by the City Attorney’s Office showing that the feds are looking into not just the Department of Public Works but also the Planning Department and the Department of Public Health.
The office also released a subpoena of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission last week seeking documents related to city contractors and the personnel files of its director, Harlan Kelly, and Assistant General Manager Juliet Ellis.
The Public Works subpoena specifically seeks records relating to three nonprofits: Lefty O’Doul’s Foundation For Kids, the San Francisco Parks Alliance and the San Francisco Clean City Coalition.
Contractors named in the subpoena are Clark Construction, Pankow, Recology, Webcor, SFR Recovery, Kwan Wo Ironworks Inc. and PG&E.
“Public Works is cooperating fully with the ongoing investigations,” a Public Works spokesperson said Wednesday.
The investigators requested “all invitations, posters, flyers, announcements” for holiday parties, picnics, breakfasts and award ceremonies held by Public Works as well as the City Administrator’s Office, which oversees the department, since 2010.
They also seek a list of the scheduled or actual attendance at these events by elected officials and department heads.
The subpoena includes an example of how city officials solicited contributions. In April 2015, Larry Stringer, deputy director of operations for Public Works, wrote to Recology seeking a “tax deductible” donation to the Parks Alliance.
“We also hope that we can count on your support to make the Open House and Employee Appreciation Picnic a success,” Stringer wrote.
The San Francisco Examiner first reported in February that the Lefty O’Doul’s Foundation had accepted donations from city contractors including Recology, Webcor and Pankow that were in turn used to fund Public Works parties.
The City Attorney’s Office has also launched an investigation into whether the same nonprofits were funneling donations from various companies into city programs and events.
The local investigation came after the FBI arrested former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and restaurateur Nick Bovis, the owner of Lefty O’Doul’s, on fraud charges back in January.
Bovis has since pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the investigation. And others have since been charged including former Fix-it Team Director Sandra Zuniga and permit expeditor Walter Wong.
The subpoenas for the Department of Public Health and Planning Department were both dated April 30 and seek documents related to city contractor Florence Kong, who was federally charged in June for allegedly making false statements to the FBI about her connections to Nuru.
The subpoenas both center around the construction and operation of a demolition and waste facility at 2401 Ingalls St. in the Bayview by Kong’s companies, SFR Recovery Inc. and Kwan Wo Ironworks.
The subpoenas also seek any communications between the departments and Nuru related to obtaining the permits and licenses.
Kong allegedly gave Nuru gifts including a $41,000 Rolex watch and expensive meals “in return for his help and influence in obtaining business with The City of San Francisco,” according to the complaint against her.
“This includes Kong’s efforts to have Nuru help her obtain business with Clark Construction working on the San Francisco Animal Care and Control Facility, and to increase the volume of debris and solid waste Kong’s business SFR Recovery was receiving from The City of San Francisco,” the FBI wrote.
The Public Works subpoena also sought records related to Nuru securing work for Kong on the Animal Care and Control facility and to Kong attempting to do work on a new academic building at University of California, Hastings College of the Law.