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Three people have been arrested for allegedly defrauding a California recycling program by trying to import containers from Arizona into California in exchange for a total of $16.1 million in recycling value, according to the California Attorney General’s Office.

A 5-month investigation by Arizona authorities and the California Department of Justice led to the seizure of almost 28,000 pounds of empty beverage containers from California-bound trucks in Phoenix. The seized containers could have been potentially redeemed for around $42,000 from recycling centers, according to a California DOJ news release.

The defendants allegedly operated a trucking company as a front “for the sole purpose of defrauding California’s recycling program,” according to the press release.

The company owner Miguel Bustillos, 49, truck driver Anthony Sanchez, 57, both of Arizona, and a suspected broker Amaury Avila-Medina, 56, of Sylmar, have all been charged with recycling fraud, conspiracy and grand theft, according to the news release.

California’s Beverage Container Recycling Program is publicly funded and run by CalRecycle. It is meant to incentivize residents to recycle by giving those who bring their empty bottles and cans to recycling centers up to 10 cents per piece.

Only containers sold in California can be redeemed because the funds come from the California Redemption Value fee that residents pay every time they purchase a beverage in a recyclable container.

“CalRecycle and its law enforcement partners will continue to follow these investigations wherever they lead to protect public funds and the integrity of California’s Beverage Container Recycling Program,” CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline said in the news release.

If convicted, the defendants face up to three years in prison, and can be responsible for paying fines and court-ordered restitution, and they could lose their license.