Recology CEO comes clean on the organization's rotten past

San Francisco-based Recology, formerly known as Norcal Waste Systems, has a past tainted by corruption.

Recology took over Ashland Sanitary and Recycling last week.

Kenneth Walsh, the former vice president of Norcal Waste Systems, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2001 for his part in a bribery scheme that involved San Bernardino County officials, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

James Hlawek, who resigned as San Bernardino County administrator in 1998, admitted to taking bribes from Walsh and others in exchange for steering $20 million worth of county contracts to Norcal Waste Systems, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

At an Oct. 6 meeting in which Ashland City Councilors decided whether to consent to a transfer of stock from Ashland Sanitary Service, Inc. to Recology, Councilor Carol Voisin asked Recology company officials if the company had ever had difficulties working with other cities.

Recology President and CEO Mike Sangiacomo described the bribery case involving Walsh. He said Recology cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney's Office on the case.

Sangiacomo said Walsh took it upon himself to bribe the county administrator with funds that did not belong to the company.

"No one else was involved. It's something we're not proud of, but it happened," Sangiacomo said, adding that the case did taint the company's name.

He said the company agreed with the county to terminate the contract. The company also repaid all the profits it had earned from the county during the term of the contract, Sangiacomo said.

In a separate case involving the company, a Santa Clara County judge dismissed a bribery case in 2007.

San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales and his chief budget aide, Joe Guerra, had been accused of secretly giving Norcal Waste Systems an additional $11.25 million in public money in exchange for the company having its recycling subcontractor switch to the Teamsters union and pay employees more, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The Teamsters union had contributed to Gonzales' political campaigns, the newspaper said.

Prosecutors conceded that the mayor had not received any money from the union because of the garbage deal, but argued that he was guilty of taking a bribe by brokering a deal for "indirect future advantage," the Chronicle reported.

Some legal experts had called the prosecutors' characterization of the situation as bribery a legal stretch.

In dismissing the case, the judge wrote, "This is not bribery. This is politics."

Sangiacomo characterized the behavior of the parties involved as "stupid," but not illegal.

City of Ashland Management Analyst Ann Seltzer reported to the Ashland City Council that other cities served by Recology gave good reports of the company's customer service and its recycling programs.

The Ashland City Council unanimously consented to the transfer of Ashland Sanitary Service, Inc. stock to Recology. Ashland Sanitary holds a franchise to provide garbage service within the city.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or

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