Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

Two Southland men will be serving jail time for bringing thousands of aluminum cans into California from out of state as part of a recycling-fraud operation, state officials announced Monday.

Francisco Flores, 59, of Los Angeles, and Guillermo Chavez, 62, of Anaheim, operated “multi-state recycling fraud rings” from two public storage facilities in South Gate, according to Lance Klug of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.

According to Klug, a five-month investigation revealed that Flores and Chavez used the storage facilities as hubs to smuggle out-of-state used beverage containers into California for the purpose of defrauding the California Redemption Value Fund.

Acting on a tip from CalRecycle, the California Department of Justice’s Recycling Fraud Team began an investigation into Nova Storage and South Gate Public Self Storage in December.

During the investigation, agents saw used beverage containers from Phoenix, Arizona, being hauled to the South Gate storage facilities, then taken to local recycling centers and fraudulently redeemed for California Redemption Value, Klug said.

On May 4, agents executed search warrants at Nova Storage, 5951 Firestone Blvd., South Gate, and arrested Flores “after determining he was the head of (a smuggling ring) and had hired … others to work for him,” Klug said.

Also on May 4, agents served search warrants at South Gate Public Self Storage, 5911 Firestone Blvd., and arrested Chavez, “after determining he was the leader of a second smuggling ring who hired others to unload and redeem out- of-state material,” Klug said.

Agents searched 18 storage units at the two locations and seized 35,479 pounds of aluminum used beverage containers worth an estimated $70,958 in potential CRV, Klug said. They also seized 9,125 pounds of plastic used beverage containers worth an estimated $11,406 in potential CRV.

On May 11, Flores pleaded guilty to charges of felony recycling fraud and was sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay $800,000 in restitution, according to the state. Chavez pleaded guilty to grand theft and was sentenced to four months in jail and $225,000 in restitution.

“Californians expect and deserve vigorous fraud-prevention efforts to ensure the nickel or dime they pay at the cash register for CRV doesn’t wind up in the hands of criminal organizations,” CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline said.

“CalRecycle and its enforcement partners won’t stop until we put these smugglers out of business for good,” Smithline said.

—City News Service

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