Truck driver accused of smuggling $11,000 of recyclables into California


A Los Angeles truck driver suspected of attempting to defraud the California recycling system was arrested after authorities caught him transporting 7,000 pounds of bottles and cans worth an estimated $11,000 in potential California Redemption Value across the border from Arizona.

The driver, Julio Bolanos, 40, was arrested on suspicion of felony recycling fraud, attempted grand theft and conspiracy. If convicted, he faces six months to three years in prison in addition to fines.

California Department of Justice Recycling Fraud Team agents tracked Bolanos from Phoenix, where they witnessed used beverage containers being loaded into a semi-truck on July 19. The team saw the truck head toward California and then take a 70-mile detour to avoid the border control checkpoint in Blythe, Calif.


The agents enlisted the help of the California Highway Patrol to stop the truck and discovered that Bolanos lacked the necessary shipment receipt or imported material report required to transport used beverage containers into California.

Mark Oldfield from CalRecycle said that people trying to cheat the recycling system most frequently come via Arizona and Nevada, but he also has seen drivers travel from as far away as Washington.

“The problem is there’s no recycling incentive in those states,” he said.

According to Oldfield, perpetrators often buy bulk loads of used beverage containers at a low price from scrap dealers outside California who turn a blind eye to the illegal operations. They sometimes act unilaterally but often are part of a criminal ring, he said. Drivers take the cargo over the border to a storage location, where they split it into smaller loads to be traded in for cash, a nickel or a dime per bottle, at local recycling centers.

“It’s amazingly typical,” Oldfield said. “It’s a big state and an ongoing problem, but we’re bringing to bear all the resources available to try and stop it.”

Michelle Gregory of the California Department of Justice said six to eight people are employed in each of two recycle fraud teams, which cover the north and south regions of the state.

“Our job is to detect and stop fraud in organized criminal groups against the recycling fund,” she said. “We work throughout California and neighboring states to investigate organizations that commit large-scale fraud.”


The recycling fraud teams helped arrest eight drivers carrying $108,000 worth of recycling materials in 2015, Oldfield said. There have been multiple similar arrests this year.

“Our enforcement partners will continue to follow every lead, monitor suspected traffickers and disrupt these criminal organizations before they have a chance to rip off California consumers,” CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline said in a news release.