The California Department of Justice has convicted six people in two different cases for importing empty beverage containers from Washington State to California and illegally redeeming them for California Refund Value.
Five of the individuals have pleaded no-contest, and the sixth is awaiting extradition.
Agents estimate the amount of fraud in the two cases totaled approximately $425,000.
“Fraud against the Beverage Container Recycling Fund is theft from the people of California,” CalRecycle Director Caroll Mortensen said. “We have instituted new regulations and procedures to protect the fund, and we will work with the DOJ to have those who steal from the fund prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The first case involved Oakland resident Mario Morales Nolasco, who was certified by CalRecycle to operate a collection program, which typically service businesses such as bars and restaurants by hauling away their CRV materials, or which place bins in central areas to collect donations of CRV material. A DOJ investigation of Nolasco found that he regularly traveled to Shelton, Wash., and returned to California with loads estimated at 1,800 pounds each of empty aluminum beverage containers and illegally redeemed them for CRV. DOJ also identified Maria Garcia Nicasio, Saul Chavez and Francisco Reyes-Barrios, all of whom live in Shelton, as co-conspirators in the case.
The DOJ investigation culminated on Jan. 26 when the three Washington suspects arrived at a certified processing facility with two trucks and met Nolasco. The suspects, using Nolasco’s collection program certification as cover, then sold 9,000 pounds of aluminum beverage containers for $13,320. DOJ Agents followed the suspects to Oakland and arrested Nolasco, Nicasio, Chavez, and Reyes-Barrios. They seized $18,780 from Nolasco and Nicasio. The suspects all were booked into Alameda County Jail and charged with conspiracy, grand theft and recycling fraud. Bail was set at $280,000 for each of them. Based upon the investigation and CalRecycle records, they are suspected to have defrauded the recycling fund of approximately $329,887.
On March 6 at the Hayward Courthouse in Alameda County, Nolasco and Nicasio pleaded no contest to felonies, and Chavez and Reyes-Barrios pleaded no contest to misdemeanors.
•Nolasco is scheduled to be sentenced on April 9. The sentencing agreement includes $146,000 in restitution to CalRecycle, 178 days in jail, and five years probation. CalRecycle has revoked his collection program certification.
•Nicasio is also scheduled to be sentenced on April 9. The sentencing agreement includes $9,999 in restitution to CalRecycle, 120 days in jail, and five years probation.
•Chavez was sentenced to 76 days in jail, three years probation, and $8,000 in restitution to CalRecycle.
•Reyes-Barrios was sentenced to 76 days in jail, three years probation, and $4,000 in restitution to CalRecycle.
The second case began with a DOJ investigation of Bulmaro Elias Martinez of Yakima, Wash., who was observed regularly buying empty beverage containers from the public in Washington, and then subsequently sorted, crushed and re-bagged them at his residence. He routinely rented commercial trucks and transported the material to California, where he allegedly provided it to an accomplice, Ray Montalvo Campos, who sold it in small batches to Modesto-area recycling centers for CRV. Martinez was arrested on Jan. 12, 2014, and booked into the Yakima County jail, where he is awaiting extradition to Stanislaus County. On Feb. 10, Campos was arrested and booked into Stanislaus County Jail. Both are charged with conspiracy, grand theft, and recycling fraud. They are suspected of defrauding the CRV fund of approximately $95,000.
Campos pleaded no contest to a felony and was sentenced to pay $11,000 in restitution to CalRecycle. He will also serve 120 days in jail and three years probation. The Martinez extradition is still being processed.
The California DOJ investigates and prosecutes criminal cases on behalf of CalRecycle, which has administrative authority over the state’s beverage container recycling program.
California’s bottle bill provides an incentive for beverage container recycling by establishing a CRV of 5 cents for containers less than 24 ounces and 10 cents for containers 24 ounces or larger. However, CRV only applies to beverages in qualifying containers that were purchased within California, since the recycling fee is added to the price of the beverages sold in the state. Out-of-state containers are not eligible for CRV.