Investigators shut down two more fraudulent plastics recycling operations in Los Angeles County, arrested seven people, including owners, and confiscated three pellet-producing grinders.
The plastic industrial theft task force of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is continuing its effort to locate and trace the flow of stolen trademarked property such as plastic pallets, milk crates, baskets, totes and trays.
Task force members, including supervisor Sgt. Nabeel Mitry and four detectives, conduct over- night stakeouts, follow scavenger trucks making illegal pickups and seek to trace the polymer materials to warehouses and processing sites.
On March 19, the team confiscated stolen plastic products with a value of about $320,000 and two grinders valued at $110,000 at Adalco Recycling in the Florence-Graham neighborhood of Los Angeles. Most of the products had been ground. Four men, including an owner, were arrested at the location and charged with possession of stolen property.
About 20 percent of the Adalco Recycling operation appeared to have a legal basis for its existence, Mitry said.
On March 20, the task force used “the domino effect” in the incorporated cities of Bell Gardens and South Gate. The team found intact stolen plastic products worth about $50,000 at a Bell Gardens warehouse and determined the items were destined for a grinding operation in South Gate, Mitry said.
The South Gate warehouse unit had intact and ground products with a value of about $24,000 and equipment estimated to be worth $67,000. Three men were arrested.
Detectives identify intact recovered property and ask owners of the trademarked items to retrieve them. That does not always happen quickly.
Sometimes “we spent the night guarding this stuff” because the evidence would disappear if left unprotected overnight, Mitry said. “In this situation, we had two places, and I couldn't leave one guy by himself” to stand guard.
Gathering intelligence, following the myriad of trails and closing an illegal operation is a laborious process involving “hours and days of surveillance,” he said.
“Information is hard to come by.”
Not everything is ground into pellets. One site may put the material in bales, send it to another person and, in some cases, ship the material to a foreign destination.
“We have made more progress than imagined in my opinion,” but Mitry restated the task force's mantra: “We are scratching at the surface” of the problem.
Through the end of February, the task force had recovered products and equipment with a value of nearly $4.3 million.
The task force operates from the sheriff's station in the City of Industry.
Industry's city council authorized a pilot program addressing plastic industrial theft in mid-2011 and allocated $1.5 million for a one-year trial program that began Sept. 1.
Efforts to obtain company funding to continue the program have yielded two donations of $10,000 each, but Mitry remains hopeful that others will provide financial support.