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The family now faces multiple charges of recycling fraud, grand theft, and conspiracy.
A family is being accused of smuggling 178 tons of aluminum cans and plastic bottles from Arizona to California to exploit the state's recycling programs, according to officials.
According to a criminal complaint filed in the County of Riverside in California, eight family members made $7.6 million by illegally turning in tons of recyclable glass bottles and aluminum cans throughout an eight-month period.
In Arizona, there is no recycling program that provides monetary compensation for bottles and cans. However, California's recycling program, overseen by CalRecycle, allows individuals to redeem empty containers for a 5- or 10-cent return, but this applies exclusively to materials sold or obtained within the state. According to the complaint, the family took advantage of this program and now faces multiple charges of recycling fraud, grand theft, and conspiracy.
"California's recycling program is funded by consumers, and helps protect our environment and our communities," said Attorney General Rob Bonta in a statement. "Those who try to undermine its integrity through criminal operations will be held accountable. I am grateful to my team of diligent investigators, and to our partners at CalRecycle, for uncovering this fraud scheme and for working together to protect funds that belong to California consumers who recycle."
Authorities first launched the investigation into the group in Oct. 2022. The group was identified as Maria Ermelinda Saenz Gonzalez, Francisco Balmore Amaya Saenz, Jose Raul Chica, Jose Antonio Interiano Martinez, Jose Alfredo Giron Henriquez, Victor Manuel Hernandez, Manuela Rodriguez Rizo, and Genaro Solis Fuentes.
As part of the investigation, agents executed search warrants at six locations, leading to the seizure of over $1 million worth of illegally imported beverage containers.
"California will not tolerate fraud against our recycling deposit system that has kept nearly a half-trillion bottles and cans from being littered or landfilled in our state," said CalRecycle Director Rachel Machi Wagoner in a statement. "CalRecycle’s partnership with the California Department of Justice (DOJ) is working to stop criminals and protect funds that belong to Californians."
Authorities say CalRecycle will also take action against the participating recycling centers.
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