Former city official Sandra Zuniga has agreed to become the latest defendant to plead guilty in the City Hall corruption scandal and cooperate with the ongoing investigation, court records revealed Tuesday.
Zuniga lost her jobs as the head of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services and director of the Public Works Fix-It Team last June after being charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Prosecutors said she deposited funds into her bank account that her romantic partner, former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru, had obtained illegally. She then allegedly used the funds toward mortgage payments and for labor on Nuru’s vacation home in Colusa County.
Under the plea agreement signed Monday, Zuniga admitted to the conduct alleged in a new charging document the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed against her for conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The document alleges that from at least as early as 2010 until January 2020, she did “knowingly combine, conspire, and agree with Mohammed Nuru” and others to conduct financial transactions with the proceeds of wire fraud.
In the plea agreement, Zuniga agreed “I acted knowing the transaction was designed in whole or part to disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of the proceeds of the specified unlawful activity.”
Zuniga is the fifth defendant to reach a plea agreement in the scandal after restaurateur Nick Bovis, permit expediter Walter Wong, contractor Balmore Hernandez and businesswoman Florence Kong.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a filing Tuesday that all five have “pleaded or will plead guilty and will be cooperating in a public corruption case against Mohammed Nuru and others, involving a scheme to defraud [the public] of the honest services and related public corruption offenses.”
The corruption scandal began in January 2020 when the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Nuru and Bovis in connection with an alleged attempt to bribe an airport commissioner, among other allegations.
Federal authorities are now asking anyone else with information on corruption at City Hall to come forward.
While the investigation is ongoing, Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds said in a statement on the plea agreement that “the window of time for cooperation is closing.”
“If you are involved in public corruption at any level, reach out to the FBI before the FBI reaches out to you,” Hinds said. “Early cooperation is always viewed favorably.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair said in the statement that the FBI wants to interview city employees and contractors with first-hand knowledge related to the scandal.
“We believe that there are still city employees and contractors who may have pertinent knowledge that would be crucial to the ongoing investigation,” Fair said, encouraging others to cooperate.
Zuniga faces up to 20 years in prison and a maximum $500,000 fine. She has agreed to surrender any assets obtained as a result of her crimes.
Zuniga is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday morning on the new charging document, and expected to plead guilty March 18 or later.
Her attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.