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Shades of Kramer? Six charged with defrauding California recycling fund

By: Jeremy Carroll

October 1, 2013

It’s a story straight out of “Seinfeld,” but officials in California are not laughing.

Six people have been accused of defrauding the state’s beverage container law by taking loads of plastic bottles and aluminum cans from Nevada and returning them for a cash refund in California. In total, officials said the group defrauded California’s Beverage Container Recycling Fund by $305,280.

Gerardo Gomez-Vasquez and Magdalena Hernandez-Sebastian, a married couple, are accused of purchasing the plastic and aluminum from Nevada recycling centers, sorting through them in a storage unit and trucking them to California for the deposit.

Officials said they used a 26-foot box truck to take the bottles and cans to California.

“Defrauding the recycling fund is stealing from the state of California and its citizens, and we are taking aggressive steps to thwart those who would attempt it,” said CalRecycle Director Caroll Mortensen in a statement. “We take fraud very seriously and work side by side with the [Justice Department] and other state and local agencies to catch these criminals and punish them to the fullest extent of the law.”

Argelio Hernandez-Torres, Ludin Rosales-Valladares, Elfego Gonzalez-Ramos and Luis Aguirre-Alarcon delivered the truckloads of bottles and cans to California, officials said. They were taken to recycling centers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley areas of California.

Officials said they watched the trucks be loaded with plastic and aluminum and followed it to Sacramento. The truck had 3,000 pounds of aluminum and 1,000 pounds of plastic bottles in it, officials said.

Hernandez-Torres remains at large, but the other five were arrested and charged with conspiracy, grand theft and recycling fraud, CalRecycle said. All face felony charges.

A total of five tons of recyclables were seized in Nevada following the arrests.

California refunds consumers 5 cents for containers smaller than 24 ounces and 10 cents for containers that are larger than 24 ounces.

California officials believe out-of-state returns make up $30 million to $50 million worth of payments out of the approximately $900 million it pays out annually.