Three arrested in suspected recycling smuggling ring that netted $16.1M

Law enforcement in California and Arizona busted a suspected $16.1 million recycling smuggling operation based out of Phoenix. Photo courtesy California Attorney General's Office

Dec. 4 (UPI) — Three men have been arrested in a recycling smuggling ring that netted an estimated $16.1 million, California’s attorney general announced Monday.

Arrested were Miguel Bustillos, owner of Bustillos’ Trucking of Phoenix, truck driver Anthony Sanchez and suspected broker Amaury Avila-Medina, the California agency said in a press release. They were arrested last month and charged with felony recycling fraud, conspiracy and grand theft.

The California Attorney General’s Office, working with CalRecycle and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, conducted a five-month investigation that found they smuggled recycled beverage containers into the state for three years.

California’s beverage container recycling program is overseen by CalRecycle and financed by the California Refund Value program. The program is financed through a 5- to 10-cent return on eligible beverage containers.

“California’s recycling program is one of many publicly funded programs used to incentivize better treatment of our environment and communities,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Those who choose to undercut these efforts to protect and improve our community will be apprehended.”

In September, the state brought charges against eight people suspected of smuggling 28 tons into California.

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Recycling centers are responsible to ensure only eligible bottles and cans that are sold in California are redeemed.

“The cross-border partnership between the California Department of Justice and Arizona’s law enforcement community sends a clear signal that organized criminal groups have no safe space to operate recycling fraud schemes,” CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline said in a statement.

A total of 27,860 pounds of empty beverage containers were seized from California-bound semi-trucks at a collection yard in Phoenix with a potential redemption value of $41,836.80, including 19,300 pounds of aluminum empty beverage containers and 8,560 pounds of plastic empty beverage bottles, according to CalRecycle in a news release.

The $16.1 million obtained from the fund was calculated using the suspect’s admission of the amount and frequency that the driver imported recyclable material into California. “We verified the average amount by taking the weights of the trucks that we previously seized from the suspect while en route to California,” AG Office spokeswoman Jennifer Molina told the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

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