Earlier this week, San Francisco City Administrator handed in her resignation over continued fraud and bribery allegations.
The allegations date back to 2016 when General Manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SF PUC) Harlan Kelly, who is Naomi’s husband, got entangled in an FBI investigation over accepting bribes and being in a corrupt partnership with San Francisco construction executive and permit expediter Walter Wong.
According to an FBI complaint, Wong had provided Harlan and the Kelly family several paid international trips, including a vacation to China, meals, jewelry, and personal car services. These were all arranged mainly through the online chat service WeChat. The conversations were not removed, allowing the FBI to later discover such incriminating messages as Harlan Kelly saying to Wong “Thank you for the best family vacation ever! A little something for everyone!”
The FBI complaint, as well as Wong in a guilty plea, noted that these were all given in exchange for Kelly’s help in getting Wong’s son the city streetlight conversion project contract, as well as other dealings of Wong’s.
Despite Harlan Kelly maintaining his innocence, he was arrested during a December 1, 2020 FBI raid on his house and charged with one count of honest services wire fraud. He resigned later that day.
“I am not guilty of these charges,” said Harlan Kelly in December. “I have devoted my entire career to public service. As many of my colleagues at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission are aware, I had intended to retire in the next 18 months. Unfortunately, I need to leave my position now in order to defend myself, my legacy and my family.”
Since Harlan’s Kelly arrest, Naomi Kelly had been under growing scrutiny, with many alleging that she was involved beyond going on those trips given by Wong. She had taken a six-week leave of absence the day after her husband was charged and resigned.
Naomi Kelly resigns
Naomi Kelly, who worked for San Francisco since the 1990’s and had been City Administrator since 2012 after being appointed by former Mayor Ed Lee, ended her leave of absence this week. Kelly still found herself under a cloud, with both her husband’s charge and continued scrutiny around her becoming too much to bear. This all led to her handing in her resignation on Tuesday, an action that wasn’t reported until the next day.
“I must step aside to focus on my family and to allow City Administrator’s Office to function without distraction,” said Kelly after handing in her resignation. “As a dedicated public servant, I am deeply saddened to tender my resignation in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis for which the City Administrator’s Office has a vital role. However, I know, that this is the right decision for San Francisco, for my family, and especially for my two children who have been devastated by these allegations.”
In her letter to Mayor London Breed, Kelly also continued to deny the allegations against her and her husband, saying that the FBI case was “based on the false statements of an admitted liar,” referring to Wong.
Legal experts have said that the evidence in the case against Harlan Kelly is substantial.
“This is all so early, and Harlan Kelly is still an innocent man until he is tried by the court. But there is much evidence against him, most notably, those chat messages thanking a man for vacations,” Bay Area criminal lawyer Doug Hirsch told the Globe.
“With his wife it’s all up in the air, and you can’t even speculate on it because the FBI hasn’t charged her on anything. The resignation was most likely in response to the growing scrutiny on her and her husband, and it seemed to have been timed to be effective the day before her husband goes to court over all this. And, in the end, it’s probably a good thing. A public official being this close to another official who did this, and even, unwillingly, benefitting from at least one of the bribes looks bad.
“City Administrator is an important job in San Francisco. They are in charge of 25 departments and is the most important non-elected position in the city. If there is more to this, it would look even worse if she was in office. If there isn’t, it’s still suspicious in the eyes of many why she is still there. Involved or not, it was the right move.
“In any case, the city breathes a little easier now with her out as the court date comes up. And this whole incident also just put the kibosh on any plans to name a building or erect a statue or plaque of them.”
Naomi Kelly’s resignation will be effective February 1st, with no new administrator yet to be named by Mayor Breed. Harland Kelly is due in court on February 2nd.