Eight members of a family that run recycling centers across Riverside County face felony fraud charges related to allegations that they smuggled 178 tons of recyclables from Arizona to take advantage of California’s recycling programs.

Over the span of eight months, the United States Department of Justice investigated several recycling centers around the county and found that the operators illegally redeemed $7.6 million worth of aluminum cans and plastic bottles that were brought over illegally from the neighboring state.

Six unnamed recycling centers were involved in the alleged scheme, according to CalRecycle.

Eight people, all said to be family members, were named in charging documents provided by CalRecycle.

The defendants have been identified as Maria Ermelinda Saenz Gonzalez, Francisco Balmore Amaya Saenz, Jose Raul Chica, Jose Antonio Interiano Martinez, Jose Alfredo Giron Henriquez, Victor Manuel Hernandez, Manuela Rodriguez Rizo, and Genaro Solis Fuentes.

As part of the investigation, searches were conducted, which led to the seizure of more than $1 million worth of additional materials.

The charges were filed as part of a large ongoing initiative by CalRecycle to identify and arrest those who try to defraud California residents of recycling redemption credits that are meant to encourage use of the California Redemption Value (CRV) program.

The program allows Californians to return beverage containers to privately-owned recycling centers in exchange for $.05 to $.10 per container.

It’s funded by Californians every time they purchase an eligible item: the CRV tax is tacked onto the initial cost, but can be redeemed upon return. By redeeming ineligible items from outside of the state, scammers effectively steal money from the pockets of Californians.

CalRecycle Director Rachel Machi Wagoner said the agency’s partnership with the DOJ is making recycling fraud a priority.

“California will not tolerate fraud against our recycling deposit system that has kept nearly a half-trillion bottles and cans from being littered or landfilled in our state,” Wagoner said. 

All eight suspects were expected to be booked into the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Jail. According to court documents, bail is recommended for each suspect, ranging between $10,000 to as high as $50,000.

Earlier this year, two Arizona business owners were arrested for their alleged roles in a $10 million recycling fraud scheme, in which they allegedly trucked over hundreds of tons of recyclables from Arizona to California to take advantage of the CRV program.

A similar scheme involving another group of Arizonans was busted in 2018 after defrauding California to the tune of $16.1 million.

“California’s recycling program is funded by consumers and helps protect our environment and our communities,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “Those who try to undermine its integrity through criminal operations will be held accountable.”

Californians who suspect recycling fraud can report violations to CalRecycle by email or by calling 1-866-226-5623.