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Family Faces Felony Charges for Collecting $7.6 Million by Recycling Arizona Garbage in California

Family Faces Felony Charges for Collecting $7.6 Million by Recycling Arizona Garbage in California

A truck drops off a load of recyclables at the Norcal Waste recycling facility in San Francisco on July 11, 2003. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

7/28/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

Two members of a family suspected of collecting $7.6 million for illegally recycling bottles and cans from Arizona were arrested on July 25 after California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed several felony charges against the group.
Jose Chica, 50, and Jose Martinez, 35, are scheduled to be arraigned on Sept. 26, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office told The Epoch Times.
Mr. Bonta’s office expects to arrest the remaining suspects soon, according to a spokesperson.
“All eight suspects have either been arrested or will be arrested shortly. Those arrested have been booked into the Riverside County Jail,” a spokesperson told The Epoch Times. “Attorney General Bonta is committed to holding accountable those who try to undermine the integrity of California’s recycling program through criminal operations.”
Mr. Bonta claims eight family members were involved in a recycling scheme that involved bringing tons of discarded beverage containers from Arizona to redeem in Riverside County. They are facing multiple charges including recycling fraud, grand theft, and conspiracy.
“California’s recycling program is funded by consumers, and helps protect our environment and our communities,“ Mr. Bonta said in a July 25 press release. ”Those who try to undermine its integrity through criminal operations will be held accountable.”
Eight family members are facing prison time for multiple felony charges in California after redeeming $7.6 million in recycled cans and bottles from Arizona. Only California materials are eligible for the state’s beverage redemption program. The California Department of Justice recovered nearly $1.1 million from six locations in the case. (Courtesy of California Attorney General's Office)

Eight family members are facing prison time for multiple felony charges in California after redeeming $7.6 million in recycled cans and bottles from Arizona. Only California materials are eligible for the state’s beverage redemption program. The California Department of Justice recovered nearly $1.1 million from six locations in the case. (Courtesy of California Attorney General's Office)

With California’s beverage container recycling program, consumers pay 5 to 10 cents for each can or bottle purchased, depending on the size of the container. Fees can be redeemed at recycling centers throughout the state.
Only containers from California can be redeemed for cash under the program, Mr. Bonta said in the press release.
Arizona doesn’t have a recycling program that reimburses consumers for turning in beverage containers.
Those allegedly involved now face prison time. An arrest warrant was filed in Riverside County Superior Court on July 19.
The six other individuals listed in the complaint are the following: Maria Saenz Gonzales, 41; Francisco Saenz, 24; Jose Henriquez, 36; Victor Hernandez, 23; Manuela Rizo, 58; and Genaro Fuentes, 43.
The Attorney General’s Office has charged one of the defendants, Mr. Saenz, with a special allegation, meaning he could be sentenced to extra time because he is currently out on bail for a domestic violence case.
In that case, Mr. Saenz has been charged with two felony counts for causing great bodily harm or injury to his spouse. A settlement conference was set for Sept. 18 on those charges.
Other special allegations filed in the recycling case include computer access and fraud against six of the defendants, and special allegations against all eight for multiple felonies involving fraud, embezzlement, and theft over $100,000.
Eight family members are facing prison time for multiple felony charges in California after redeeming $7.6 million in recycled cans and bottles from Arizona. Only California materials are eligible for the state’s beverage redemption program. The California Department of Justice recovered money and additional cans and bottles from six locations during the investigation. (Courtesy of California Attorney General's Office)

Eight family members are facing prison time for multiple felony charges in California after redeeming $7.6 million in recycled cans and bottles from Arizona. Only California materials are eligible for the state’s beverage redemption program. The California Department of Justice recovered money and additional cans and bottles from six locations during the investigation. (Courtesy of California Attorney General's Office)

CalRecycle is working with the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to stop such criminals and protect funds that belong to Californians, according to CalRecycle Director Rachel Machi Wagoner.
The state’s DOJ began investigating a group of recycling centers in Riverside County operated by the suspects in October 2022, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Over the next eight months, the department said the suspects smuggled 178 tons of aluminum cans and plastic bottles from Arizona and delivered them to undocumented lots in Riverside County, where they were redeemed for $7.6 million.
Beyond the felony charges filed, the DOJ’s Bureau of Investigation Recycle Fraud Team served search warrants on six locations, resulting in the seizure of nearly $1.1 million in cash and additional imported beverage containers.
CalRecycle also plans to carry out legal action against the recycling centers, according to Mr. Bonta’s press release.
In March, two Arizona business owners were arrested and charged with felonies in a similar recycling scheme. Mr. Bonta’s office filed charges against eight defendants in that case.
Five of the defendants allegedly brought discarded beverage containers from Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona, to a Los Angeles County recycling center where they collected more than $10 million.
The state’s Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act of 1986 was passed to encourage residents to recycle and reduce litter, according to CalRecycle, the agency responsible for the state’s recycling and waste handling programs.
Since the law was passed, Californians have recycled more than 463 billion bottles and cans, according to CalRecycle.
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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