Some city officials in San Francisco are extorting contractors for money by threatening their jobs, says a former San Francisco Supervisor.
This comes during a federal investigation into the city’s high-ranking public officials, in which the city’s former director of Public Works, Mohammed Nuru, admitted in January to receiving bribes from multiple contractors in exchange for securing city contracts and expediting permit approvals.
“The culture at City Hall has certain rules in place that allow a bad actor like Nuru … basically make them [contractors] give him money. Otherwise, he’s going to interfere in their ability to retain the contract or to complete the contract without ending up with problems,” Matt Gonzalez, public defender and former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said on EpochTV’s “California Insider” program.
In a fair process of bidding, contractors are competing against one another and the lowest bidder who’s already qualified will be given the job. But there are a few ways to undermine the system, Gonzalez said.
“One is to argue over technical points,” Gonzalez said, adding that a contractor’s bid can be “undermined” if there are small mistakes in the bid proposals, like misspellings.
In other cases, Gonzalez said, even after a contractor wins a bid, city officials can legally deny the bid for no reason.
Gonzalez said the law allows bad actors within city government to threaten bid denials in order to extort money from a contractor, or rebid the contract since their preferred bidder was not chosen.
In one case, Gonzalez represented an Ethiopian immigrant contractor who had secured the contract through loans and surety bonds.
“He’s the low bidder [and] no one could find anything that was nonresponsive [violated the law]. But they decided they didn’t want to give it to him,” Gonzalez said.
“The head of the agency wanted the other people to get it and these other people were politically connected. They just rebid the whole job … [and] lifted the surety requirements, the bonding requirements so that he would not qualify,” he said.
Gonzalez said the law that grants government officials the ability to deny bids without providing a reason needs to change.
While he was a supervisor, Gonzalez attempted to create a commission that oversees the Department of Public Works and its decision-making on contracts to prevent corruption, like in Nuru’s case, from happening.
“A commission is imperfect. You still have corruption and influences in these bodies. But it creates a layer of potential protection for contractors or others that are being mistreated or extorted to try to get attention and help,” Gonzales said.