San Francisco, California - Charges were unsealed Wednesday alleging that Walter Wing Lok Wong conspired for over 15 years to defraud the public of their right to the honest services of San Francisco city officials, including Mohammed Nuru, the former head of the San Francisco Department of Public Works, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson, John F. Bennett, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Kareem Carter, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge.
According to the information, Wong, 70, of San Francisco, is alleged to have conspired with NURU and other unnamed City officials since as early as 2004 to defraud the public through a scheme involving bribery, kickbacks, and the concealment of material information. A second count in the information alleges that Wong also conspired with Nuru and others to engage in money laundering, to disguise and conceal the proceeds of fraud.
A document filed in court along with the information indicates that Wong intends to change his plea to guilty on both counts as early as July 6. As part of that guilty plea, according to the terms of a plea agreement filed on the docket, Wong will provide information, documents, and testimony to the ongoing federal investigation into corruption in San Francisco city government, in exchange for the possibility of reducing his sentence. The conduct underlying the crimes to which Wong was charged were submitted to the court in a separate “Exhibit A” to the plea agreement that was filed under seal and thus is not available to the public. However, government officials have confirmed that Wong is the person previously described as “Contractor 2” in the 75-page complaint affidavit filed earlier this year against Nuru.
Wong is the sixth defendant to be charged as part of the graft probe, and the second to plead guilty. Charges were previously filed against Nuru and local restaurateur Nick Bovis on January 28, 2020. Earlier this month, additional charges were filed against Sandra Zuniga, the Mayor’s Fix-It Director, and contractors Balmore Hernandez and Florence Kong. Bovis has since pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government.
“The charged conspiracy that we announce today is breathtaking in its duration and scope, alleging more than a decade of fraud and money laundering involving one of San Francisco’s highest ranking public employees, one of its most well-known permit expediters, and other city officials,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson. He added, “As this investigation continues, the breadth and depth of the identified misconduct is widening. To everyone with a piece of public corruption in San Francisco, please understand that here in federal court we will distinguish sharply between those who cooperate and those who do not. If you love San Francisco, and regret your misconduct, you still have an opportunity to do the right thing. Run, don’t walk, to the FBI, before it is too late for you to cooperate.”
“Today’s announcement is part of a complex, ongoing FBI investigation into public corruption in San Francisco city government,” said FBI’s Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett. “This type of unscrupulous behavior erodes trust in our municipal departments and will not be tolerated. The FBI is committed to investigating any individual or company involved and hold them accountable.”
“Pay-to-play schemes destroy the public’s confidence in government,” said Kareem Carter, Special Agent in Charge IRS Criminal Investigation. “And as we follow the money we are discovering all the players in this scheme, and how this game was played. IRS CI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure that any individual or company involved in this scheme shall be held accountable for their actions and not go unpunished.”
Wong faces a maximum statutory penalty of up to 20 years in prison on each count, as well as fines that could go as high as $500,000 or twice the amount of funds involved in the money laundering conspiracy. In addition, the court may order additional terms of supervised release and restitution. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553
The prosecution is being handled by the Office of the U.S. Attorney, Northern District of California’s new Corporate Fraud Strike Force and is the result of an investigation by the FBI.