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S.F. Mayor Fined for Allegations of Ethics Violations

Mayor London Breed has agreed to pay $22,792 in city fines to settle allegations that she committed several ethics violations while in office. Breed is the first sitting mayor in the city to settle such a case.

(TNS) — San Francisco Mayor London Breed has agreed to pay a $22,792 city fine to settle allegations that she committed a series of ethics violations while in office, including asking former Gov. Jerry Brown to release her brother from prison and allowing Mohammed Nuru, the disgraced former head of Public Works, to pay for repairs to a car she owned.

While it's not unusual for city supervisors and candidates to be hit with fines from the Ethics Commission, Breed, who is also accused of failing to properly report a 2015 campaign contribution, appears to be the first sitting mayor in San Francisco to settle such a case, according to records.

It is also one of the commission's biggest fines in recent history.

The proposed fine, first obtained by The Chronicle on Tuesday, is part of an agreement stating that Breed's violations were "significant," involving the misuse of her title as mayor for personal gain.

She also violated city laws that limit officials from accepting gifts from subordinates and regulate campaign contributions.

The fine puts a spotlight on the mayor's personal and political dealings, as she tries to steer the city through a particularly challenging and uncertain time in the pandemic. It also comes as City Hall tries to recover from a series of scandals that spotlighted the cozy — and allegedly corrupt — relationships in local government. Breed has tried to distance herself from the fallout, and has instead tried to focus on the city's recovery.

Breed signed the agreement Monday and said the terms were "fair." If approved by the Ethics Commission at its next meeting on Aug. 13, the mayor will personally pay the fine.

"While nothing stipulated here had any effect on my decision-making as mayor, it is important that as mayor that I lead by example and take responsibility for my actions," Breed said in a Tuesday statement. "I've learned a lot over the last two years since the most recent of these events took place, and I've learned from this process."

The settlement comes nearly three years after Breed and a number of family members sent a letter to former Gov. Jerry Brown, asking him to "consider leniency" and release her brother, Napoleon Brown, from prison. Brown has served about two decades of a 44-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter and armed robbery.

In the Oct. 23, 2018 letter, Breed said her brother's punishment had been excessive and he turned his life around in prison. A number of family members sent similar letters of support as part of the application to have his sentence commuted.

Multiple attorneys and government ethics experts previously told The Chronicle that Breed did not appear to violate any state or city laws. But the fact that the letter contained "Mayor London Breed" in block letters at the top — and also referenced her status as the city's mayor in the body of the letter — raised questions about whether she was trying to influence the governor's decision.

The former governor ultimately did not pardon Breed's brother, who remains in prison. Still, the Ethics Commission said the mayor's letter was a misuse of her city title.

"By referencing her official position as mayor in making an appeal on a matter of personal interest, Breed violated a city law prohibiting the use of city titles for non-city purposes," the stipulation said.

She will be fined $2,500 for the letter.

Marc Zilversmit, Brown's attorney, said he disagreed with the ethics fine and that he "perfectly understands" why Breed would advocate for her brother. Zilversmit said he is considering how to use some recent sentencing reforms in California to try to obtain a reduced sentence for Brown.

"It was perfectly appropriate for a sister to write a letter in favor of her brother, and identify who she is and where she works," he said. "That happens all the time."

Breed also agreed to pay $8,292 for accepting a gift from Nuru, the former Public Works director who was charged by the FBI in 2019 for fraud. A few weeks after Nuru was charged by the FBI, Breed acknowledged in an online statement that Nuru paid for expenses involving repairs to her car in 2019.

At the time, she said that she didn't need to immediately disclose the gift because the two had dated and been friends for decades. She referenced a city law that said gifts provided "by an individual with whom the official has a long term, close personal friendship unrelated to the official's position" are not required to be reported under the Fair Political Practices Commission's rules.

But the Ethics Commission said that exception did not apply, and violated the city's laws that prohibit accepting gifts from subordinates.

Nuru is at the center of a widespread federal corruption case that has linked city officials, contractors, nonprofit groups and others in a tangled web of alleged bribery and fraud.

Jim Ross, a longtime political consultant, said the Nuru violation in particular is "one of those things that is going to stay with her the rest of her career."

Being tied to Nuru — who has become the face of public corruption in San Francisco — is not a good look for a mayor who likely has a long political career ahead of her, Ross said. While Breed has not publicly indicated any interest in higher office, her name is often floated by political insiders when positions in Sacramento or D.C. open up.

"It probably will not have a huge impact on her ability to govern as mayor or get re-elected," Ross said. "But if she runs for higher office, and runs in a real contested environment, this is something she is going to have to answer for."

In the wake of the federal charges filed against Nuru, the mayor has instituted several executive directives to strengthen the transparency and accountability around fundraising and gifts.

The third violation found by the Ethics Commission involves another person implicated in the city corruption scandal: restaurateur Nick Bovis.

In 2015, when Breed was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors running for re-election, she wanted to have a float created to ride in during the annual San Francisco Pride Parade. According to the stipulation, Breed asked Bovis and John Konstin, the owner of John's Grill, to both individually pay $1,250 directly to the float manufacturer.

Bovis pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud charges last year.

According to the agreement, the contributions by Bovis and Konstin were not properly recorded in campaign finance disclosures and also exceeded the $500 per person contribution limit for city candidates.

"By soliciting and accepting excess contributions, and by failing to disclose the contributions received on her committee's campaign disclosure statements, Breed violated candidate contribution limit and campaign disclosure requirements of city law," the agreement said.

The mayor will be fined $7,500 for failing to disclose the contributions and $4,500 for accepting contributions over the legal limit.

It's not unusual for politicians to be hit with ethics violations, particularly when it comes to improperly accepting gifts or failing to disclose campaign contributions: In 2016, Supervisor Mark Farrell agreed to pay the city $25,000 to settle accusations of campaign finance violations during his 2010 race for supervisor.

In 2017, former Supervisor Eric Mar was fined more than $26,000 for ethics violations associated with concert tickets that he accepted from a concert promoter months after sponsoring a board resolution to extend the company's permit for its Outside Lands festival in Golden Gate Park.

Breed's attorney, Tom Willis, said this agreement will resolve all "outstanding issues with the Ethics Commission."

"Although there are reasonable explanations for all three matters covered by the stipulation, the mayor has taken responsibility for her mistakes and is ready to move on," Willis said.


(c)2021 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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