California's recycling regulators are trying to put the lid on out-of-state fraud and have busted two accused illegal haulers in the last two months, officials say.
Investigators with the Department of Justice's recycling fraud team staked out a recycling center in Phoenix on May 12 and watched workers load about 10 tons of aluminum and plastic onto a semi-truck bound for the Golden State.
FOR THE RECORD
10:09 a.m. June 2: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referenced investigators with the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. They were actually with the Department of Justice's recycling fraud team.
In California, consumers are charged a 5- or 10-cent fee when they buy drinks in aluminum cans or plastic bottles. The state incentivizes recycling by allowing people to recoup money if they return the containers to a recycling center, depending on its California Refund Value. Out-of-state consumers and containers are ineligible.
On a small scale, the money is pocket change. But for heavy-duty haulers, the refunds add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions.
In the Phoenix case last month, the hauler was stopped at a checkpoint in Blythe in Riverside County after he told the inspector his vehicle was empty. Authorities arrested the driver, Ricardo Rodriguez of Colton, on suspicion of recycling fraud and grand theft. His alleged haul was worth more than $15,000, officials said. He's scheduled to be arraigned July 14.
In April, a Kern County grand jury indicted five people in a similar scheme but on a much larger scale. Authorities said the five operated a network of haulers that traveled out of state for recyclables that were then returned to 24 centers across Southern California. The group made about $14 million between 2012 and 2014, authorities said.