A former San Francisco employee was charged last week in connection to an alleged money laundering scheme in which funds obtained from a taxpayer trust was used to pay the mortgage on a Stonyford ranch.
San Francisco’s Fix-It Director and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, Sandra Zuniga, was charged June 8 with crimes related to an investigation into corruption in San Francisco’s City Hall, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson, in a press release.
The criminal charges all relate to the arrest and charging in January of San Francisco’s former Public Works Director, Mohammed Nuru, on bribery and public corruption charges. Nuru, who was in a longtime romantic relationship with Zuniga, resigned as SF Public Works Director two weeks after he was charged with crimes alleging that he obtained free and discounted labor and construction equipment from contractors to help him build the personal vacation home in Stonyford, while those contractors were also engaging in business with San Francisco, among other serious corruption charges.
The complaint against Zuniga, which was unsealed June 8, provides numerous details of the charges leveled in the complaint against Nuru, as well as a description of additional crimes allegedly committed by others involved in the corruption scheme, according to the Department of Justice.
“The federal investigation into City Hall corruption has not been sidetracked by Covid-19 or other recent traumatic events,” Anderson said. “(The) criminal complaints will not be the last. To everyone with a piece of this corruption, again I urge you to help make things right for San Francisco. Run, don’t walk to the FBI, before it is too late for you to cooperate.”
The complaint against Zuniga, 44, of South San Francisco, alleges that she both knew about and benefitted from Nuru’s schemes. In addition, the complaint alleges Zuniga conspired for years with Nuru to launder the proceeds of his honest services wire fraud.
The complaint charges Zuniga with laundering proceeds from Nuru’s schemes in a variety of transactions over a period of several years, and points out that from March 2014 to January 2020, Zuniga made over $135,000 in cash deposits, on top of her City of San Francisco paycheck. She also deposited over $8,000 in checks from associates of Nuru. During the same period, she then engaged in a variety of transactions that benefitted Nuru. For example, for more than three years, Zuniga paid a portion of the monthly mortgage on Nuru’s Colusa County vacation home. She allegedly did so by depositing approximately $1,000 in cash into her checking account almost every month, and then immediately writing a check for $1,000 to Nuru’s lender.
In another example of alleged money laundering, the complaint describes how Zuniga received a $5,000 check in September 2018 from a contractor who had extensive business with DPW and the City of San Francisco, and then used the funds to benefit Nuru. According to the complaint, Zuniga deposited the contractor’s check into her personal checking account and then executed a series of transactions through multiple banks, which the complaint alleges was for the purpose of concealing the source and nature of the payment. In one set of transactions, Zuniga allegedly paid a $2,400 construction bill on Nuru’s Stonyford home by writing a $2,500 check to herself, depositing it into another bank account, and then sending a check from that account to the contractor as soon as Nuru sent her the bill. Ultimately, according to the complaint, Zuniga sent an email to Nuru reporting to him how she had used the contractor’s $5,000 payment.
Further, the complaint against Zuniga describes how she benefitted from some of Nuru’s schemes. For example, Zuniga traveled with Nuru on a lavish two-week trip to South America in fall 2018, complete with business class flights and a stay at the Ritz-Carlton, in Santiago, Chile, all paid for, or heavily subsidized by a contractor doing business with the city.
Zuniga is charged with one count of conspiracy to launder money. If convicted, she faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison, a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved. The case is being prosecuted by the Corporate Fraud Strike Force of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The case is also being investigated by the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation. ■