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Former S.F. official and girlfriend to Nuru agrees to plead guilty, cooperate with feds

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 3/10/2021 By Michael Williams

Sandra Zuniga, the former director of San Francisco’s Office of Neighborhood Services, has agreed to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and will cooperate with the continuing federal investigation into City Hall corruption, the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday.

Zuniga, 45, was charged last June after prosecutors alleged she conspired for years with former city Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru to launder the proceeds of his alleged fraud.

Prosecutors say Nuru is at the center of a complex web of alleged bribery at San Francisco City Hall. He’s accused of being the key player in a scheme involving contractors, department heads and nonprofit groups that allegedly took or offered bribes in exchange for insider help on city contracts. Other figures charged in the alleged schemes include former Public Utilities Commission chief Harlan Kelly and former Recology executive Paul Giusti.

Prosecutors said Zuniga, at one point a romantic partner to Nuru, deposited the proceeds from alleged bribes into her own bank account. Those funds, federal officials said, were later used to make mortgage payments on a vacation home Nuru owned in Colusa County.

Prior to her resignation, Zuniga led city agencies that liaised with community organizations and worked to tackle quotidian quality-of-life issues in San Francisco neighborhoods.

While last June’s complaint said the alleged conspiracy began in March 2014, prosecutors on Monday filed new court documents alleging it went back much further — “at least as early as 2010” — and continued until last January, when Nuru was first arrested. He faces charges of fraud and lying to the FBI.

Zuniga, who was also San Francisco’s Fix-It Team’s director, “thought she could circumvent the law,” IRS Special Agent in Charge Michael Daniels said in a statement. “Through numerous financial transactions, over a period of almost ten years, she attempted to hide the true source of Mohammed Nuru’s funds,” Daniels said.

Zuniga’s attorney, Galia Amram, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Zuniga is the latest figure embroiled in the City Hall scandal who has agreed to cooperate with federal investigators — a list that includes restaurateur Nick Bovis, who pleaded guilty last year after he was arrested on charges that he tried to bribe an airport commissioner with Nuru. Prosecutors said the bribe was intended to secure a concession at San Francisco International Airport for a chicken restaurant that Bovis would oversee.

Walter Wong, a permit consultant charged with paying for trips Nuru took to China and South America in exchange for preferential treatment, pleaded guilty in June 2020 to charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Balmore Hernandez, a construction CEO who admitted to supplying Nuru with $250,000 worth of building materials for his Colusa County vacation home, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud in September.

Tom Hui, the former head of the city’s Department of Building Inspection, resigned last year following allegations raised by the City Attorney’s Office that he gave Wong preferential treatment and access to department policymaking decisions. Hui was not charged with any crime.

Former City Administrator Naomi Kelly resigned in January, weeks after federal officials alleged her husband, Harlan Kelly — the former general manager of the city’s Public Utilities Commission — took bribes from Wong in exchange for preferential treatment. Both Harlan and Naomi Kelly have denied the allegations. Harlan Kelly resigned last November.

“If you are involved in public corruption, reach out to the FBI before the FBI reaches out to you,” FBI agent Craig D. Fair said in a statement.

Michael Williams is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: michael.williams@sfchronicle.com or Twitter: @michaeldamianw

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