Another person caught up in the San Francisco Public Works bribery scandal has pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit honest services mail and wire fraud, the California Department of Justice said on Tuesday.
John Francis Porter, 39, former vice president and group manager of the SF Recology Group, admitted that he participated in a scheme with another Recology executive to bribe the former head of San Francisco department of public works, Mohammed Nuru.
Recology is an employee-owned private company based in San Francisco.
Recology South Bay provides curbside recycling, garbage and yard waste services to the City of Cupertino, City of Santa Clara, and unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County.
A separate company, Republic Services, provides comprehensive organic, non-organic garbage, and recycling services to businesses in the City of San José.
According to his plea agreement, Porter admitted that he conspired with another former Recology executive and others to pay bribes and influence Nuru. The bribes included $55,000 in payments for holiday parties Nuru hosted for friends, political supporters and select public works employees, from October 2017 through January 2020.
These payments were concealed as "holiday donations" to the nonprofit Lefty O'Doul's Foundation for Kids, a charity established to provide access to baseball and baseball equipment for underprivileged children. Porter admitted that he knew the funds were not being used for that purpose, but instead were made at the request of Nuru and used for his holiday parties.
Porter admitted that he did so in order to influence Nuru to exercise influence in Recology's favor, including making official decisions in his role as head of public works that would benefit Recology.
Though Porter only pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services wire and mail fraud, in November he was indicted with several more counts involving bribery and fraud. If he complies with the plea agreement, the additional counts will be dismissed at sentencing, prosecutors said.
Porter is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 7 and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Porter is the second Recology executive to plead guilty. In July 2021, Paul Giusti, a former government and community relations manager with Recology, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to bribe a local official and to commit honest services fraud, admitting to taking part in a conspiracy to bribe Nuru. He has yet to be sentenced.
Nuru was charged in 2020 with a long-running honest services fraud scheme. In January 2022, he pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud and was sentenced in August 2022 to just over 7 years in prison.
Federal agents initially arrested Nuru in January of 2020 along with Lefty O'Doul's restaurant owner Nick Bovis in an alleged attempt to bribe a San Francisco International Airport commissioner for help to obtain a restaurant concession.
“For at least 12 years, Nuru shook down contractors eager for [San Francisco] city business,” said former U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds last August, adding that he traded his “authority and influence for millions of dollars in cash, construction work, travel, meals and gifts.”
Since Nuru's arrest, a dozen defendants linked to the corruption investigation have been charged in federal court, along with three corporate entities. Among those charged include former San Francisco Public Utilities Commission general manager Harlan Kelly and former Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services director Sandra Zuniga.
Katy St. Clair is a reporter with Bay City News.