Ten people have been arrested for allegedly smuggling tons of empty beverage containers from Nevada and Arizona into California in an effort to defraud the California Redemption Value fund, authorities announced Wednesday.
Eight of the suspects allegedly participated in a scheme to bring large amounts of recyclables from Las Vegas to a dozen Los Angeles-area recycling centers, according to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle.
"Consumers in other states do not pay CRV on their beverage purchases, so any CRV redemption of out-of-state materials is theft and fraud," CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline said.
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"CalRecycle will continue to leverage every available resource to protect the integrity of the fund and safeguard the nickels and dimes Californians pay at the cash register," Smithline said.
In July, CalRecycle requested assistance from the California Department of Justice regarding a Los Angeles-area facility suspected of collecting, storing, and illegally redeeming out-of-state beverage containers.
Investigators uncovered an organized operation in which material was collected in Las Vegas, delivered by semi-truck to two California "undocumented yards," and then illegally redeemed for CRV by 12 Los Angeles recycling centers.
From Sept. 9-11, agents served warrants and discovered suspects unloading a 53-foot trailer. Confiscated materials included 10,978 pounds of aluminum and 14,940 pounds of plastic empty beverage containers with a CRV value of $36,718.
Eight suspects were arrested: Yimi Barranco-Rojas, Luis Antonio Andrade, Carlos Hernandez-Flores, Marvin Aguilar-Corado, Marcos De Jesus-Villeraldo, Marisol Blanco, Jose Morales, and Rolando Salazar. Agents believe Barranco-Rojas and Andrade are responsible for about $5 million in theft against the CRV fund.
In a second investigation conducted from Sept. 20-22, authorities set up a temporary border checkpoint in Needles to combat the illegal importation of out-of-state CRV materials.
Over the three-day operation, two truck drivers were arrested in separate incidents for allegedly transporting out-of-state empty beverage containers from Nevada and Arizona with the intent of committing fraud against the CRV fund.
Agents seized 10,456 pounds of aluminum and 9,224 pounds of plastic empty beverage containers with a CRV value of $28,665. Arrested were Johnny Montes of Compton and Romulo Huerta-Amado of Las Vegas.
All 10 suspects face charges of felony recycling fraud, attempted grand theft, and conspiracy. Convictions on those charges carry a potential sentence of six months to three years behind bars, in addition to fines, court-ordered restitution, and possible loss of driver's license and/or vehicle.
CalRecycle provides oversight of California solid waste handling and recycling programs to protect human health, develop sustainable solutions that conserve resources, and reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.