The aftermath of a 2016 trash fire. Photo by George Lipp

The widow of a former vice president of waste-hauling giant Recology has sued the company, claiming it badgered him into taking his own life by baselessly haranguing him in an “inquisition” regarding Recology’s ongoing financial and political scandals. 

Adam Tabak, 45, died in January, 2021, leaving behind a wife and three children. He was a Recology vice president and controller; the accountant had worked for Recology for 15 years. In the suit brought by his widow, Gabriella, she claims that he suffered a “psychotic break down” following a Dec. 1, 2020, meeting with “at least four” outside attorneys from the firm Morrison & Foerster and one Recology corporate counsel. 

The suit — which was filed in San Francisco Superior Court in August and transferred to Federal court on Oct. 29 —  states that, following the charged meeting, Tabak did not eat or sleep for three days before voluntarily having himself committed to Marin General Hospital on a 5150 hold. Nevertheless, on Jan. 2, 2021, Tabak stabbed himself to death with a kitchen knife in front of his wife and children, two days before he was scheduled to return from a work leave. 

Recology is presently wading through multiple scandals. Former executives Paul Giusti and John Porter have been indicted on federal charges that they funneled some $1 million into a slush fund controlled by fellow accused federal criminal Mohammed Nuru, the former longtime head of Public Works. Recology money also purportedly made its way to Nuru via “holiday donations” to corrupt charities; the money was used to host lavish Public Works parties. Giusti and Porter are also accused of plying Nuru with money and gifts and a job for his son in order for his influence in setting citywide garbage rates.  

“Mohammed is the Director of the DPW who ultimately signs off on our rates,” reads an email from Porter included in federal charging documents. “Needless to say, keeping him happy is important.” 

In a separate but connected scandal, both Recology and Public Works executives realized by January, 2019, that the 2017 rates had been set at an erroneously high level — but, for years, did not take action to prevent hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans from being overbilled. It was not until March, 2021, that the City Attorney announced a settlement in which Recology has remunerated San Franciscans some $94.5 million. 

This was the backdrop for the Dec. 1, 2020, meeting between the accountant, Tabak, and a team of attorneys. “Five figures of authority from Recology willfully and wrongfully accused Plaintiff of wrongdoing without reasonable basis for allegation,” reads the suit. “The alleged wrongdoing of Mr. Tabak asserted at the meeting went beyond his alleged failures to detect fraud and financial improprieties in the company. The false allegations articulated against Adam, without any reasonable basis, were that he himself participated in fraud. This was done without a scintilla of evidence against Mr. Tabak. It was further done in an effect to deflect blame and illegality from senior corporate officials.” 

Recology in September agreed to a $36 million federal “deferred prosecution agreement,” in which it admitted to participating in bribery schemes and pledged to cooperate with investigations moving forward.

Reached by Mission Local, Recology expressed sorrow at Tabak’s death, but referred to the charges in his widow’s suit as “outrageous.”

For anyone in need of help, the 24-hour suicide hotline at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital is 415 781 0500.

The suit repeatedly mentions Tabak’s Jewishness, which it categorizes as a protected class. The suit alleges that accusations of fiscal improprieties directed at Tabak harked to age-old Anti-Semitic tropes. It further alleges that his psychotic breakdown rendered him disabled, and a member of an additional protected class. 

Tabak, according to the suit, “physically attempted to leave” the Dec. 1, 2020 meeting — but was prevented “due to intentional threats, fraud, deceit, menace and unreasonable duress by Defendant … during the meeting, the interrogatories made it clear that Adam was to be the scapegoat for the fraudulent and illegal actions at Recology.”

Following Tabak’s discharge from Marin General, he saw psychiatrist Dr. David May on Dec. 15, 2020. Tabak was assessed as suffering from “Delusional Disorder caused by an external environmental trigger: the December 1 meeting and extreme work stress.” 

Tabak, per the suit, suffered from paranoid delusions throughout the month of December; at one point he claimed a private white-collar attorney he was referred to “was with the Federal Bureau of Investigations … [he] was paranoid and consumed with worries that his phone was tapped and his house would be raided.”

Prior to the Dec. 1 meeting, the suit states, Tabak was a healthy man. 

“We at Recology are heartbroken about the suicide of our colleague Adam Tabak. We send our sympathy and deepest condolences to his family for this tragedy,” reads a statement from the company emailed to Mission Local Tuesday morning. “The claims asserted against Recology by the lawyers for Adam’s estate, which blame the company for his suicide, are utterly without merit. We intend to defend them vigorously.

“Recology has never claimed that Adam was involved in the conduct that led to the U.S. Attorney’s and San Francisco City Attorney’s investigations. As we are sure you can appreciate, the context of our meeting with him on December 1, 2020 was privileged, as we were conducting an appropriate and necessary investigation into various legal issues and claims related to the company‘s operations in San Francisco. We cannot comment on the details of the interview, but we can say that the attorneys who participated in it conducted themselves professionally at all times.

“The meeting was conducted by videoconference over Zoom, not in person — which makes the claim of ‘false imprisonment’ absurd on its face. At no point did anyone prevent Adam from leaving the meeting. Moreover, nobody engaged in any ‘anti-semitic tropes’ in any way, shape or form. The questions posed to him were respectful and entirely appropriate to the course of the company’s investigation. We are saddened and disappointed by this outrageous complaint.”

His widow’s suit lists 13 causes of action and seeks general, special, compensatory and punitive damages. News of this suit was first reported by Law360.

$
$
$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Follow Us

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

  1. I am an ex-Recology employee. I worked there for 29 years. I would still be working at Recology today if it was not for my voiced disagreements with my “new” boss, John Porter. I knew Adam, he was the boss of two of my superiors during the last 10+ years of my employment. I knew Paul Giusti, I worked with him for 29 years. Paul & Adam are/were good men. My son was just reading me a FaceBook recap of your Recology stories. I was so humiliated & hurt to be dismissed- – I stay away from Recology news and my Recology friends.

  2. if there is no wrongdoing on the part of the lawyers and corporation, they should be willing to have the meeting be reviewed by an independent party or the courts in private to determine innocence. it shouldn’t be left to the remaining witnesses to say there was no inappropriate or illegal threats made in the meeting since they have already been found to have participated in illegal activities.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *