California: 8 arrested in summer recycling scam stings

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If you’ve driven to California, odds are you know there are some things the state doesn’t want you bringing in: plants, firewood and the like.

But there’s something else the State of California doesn’t want people bringing in: recyclables.

Eight people are facing criminal charges of felony recycling fraud, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline announced in a Wednesday statement. The suspects are alleged to have been caught transporting more than 28 tons of cans and bottles into California; the combined value is estimated at $82,853 if redeemed by the state.


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California law enforcement arrested eight individuals over the summer for allegedly engaging in felony recycling fraud.

Courtesy of CalRecycle

Cans and bottles have a 5- or 10-cent “California Redemption Value” if cashed in at a CalRecycle-certified facility. According to a 2016 CalRecycle report, Californians recycle around 37 million tons of material every year — that includes nearly 1 million tons of drink containers.

“Recycling centers are responsible for ensuring that only eligible bottles and cans that are sold in California, where the CRV deposit was paid, are redeemed,” according to the statement from Becerra’s office.

Over the summer, in three different busts, state law enforcement officials seized recycled goods allegedly smuggled in from out of state.


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California law enforcement arrested eight individuals over the summer for allegedly engaging in felony recycling fraud.

Courtesy of CalRecycle

The first raid, on June 6 in Barstow, California, resulted in the seizure of 7,000 pounds of recyclables — worth more than $10,000 — when law enforcement stopped a semi driven by Moises Morgan-Gomez, of Las Vegas. The recyclables allegedly came from a Las Vegas construction yard. Morgan-Gomez was charged with felony recycling fraud, attempted grand theft and conspiracy, according to the attorney general’s office.

The second bust, which took place July 16-17, in Needles, California, resulted in the arrest of Jose Ramirez, Juan Higuera, Romeo Turcios, Ricardo Flores, Mario Tolentino and Rafael Escobar on charges of felony recycling fraud, attempted grand theft and conspiracy. The six used five vehicles to transport more than 46,000 pounds of recyclables worth more than $71,000 into California from Nevada, according to the statement.

The final raid took place in Winterhaven, California on Aug. 15. Law enforcement agents arrested Mary Simpson, an Arizona recycling center owner, for allegedly smuggling in more than 900 points of aluminum, worth more than $1,400.


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California law enforcement arrested eight individuals over the summer for allegedly engaging in felony recycling fraud.

Courtesy of CalRecycle

The state alleges that “Simpson imported approximately 468,000 pounds of aluminum worth an estimated $748,000 in CRV into California over the past three years,” according to the attorney general’s office.

“Those attempting to cash in on out-of-state containers and steal CRV funds from California consumers should know we have agents and staff working diligently to disrupt these schemes and protect public funds,” CalRecycle’s Smithline said in the statement.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler



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