Eight family members have been accused of smuggling 178 tons of aluminum cans and plastic bottles from Arizona to California so they could take advantage of the Golden State’s recycling programs, officials said. 

They eight relatives are accused of defrauding California’s beverage container recycling program of $7.6 million over an eight-month period, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said Tuesday. The family members are facing charges of recycling fraud, grand theft and conspiracy.

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

Arizona does not have a recycling program that provides redemption value for bottles and cans. California’s recycling program, administered by CalRecycle, allows people to redeem empty cans and bottles for a 5- or 10-cent return on eligible beverage containers, but only material from California is eligible. 

Agents seized $1,061,499 while executing search warrants.

State of California Department of Justice

The state’s Department of Justice launched an investigation into a group of recycling centers in southern California’s Riverside County in October 2022. During the investigation, agents served search warrants on six locations. They seized over a $1 million and more illegally imported beverage containers.

In addition to Bonta’s actions against the alleged fraudsters, CalRecycle will carry out action against the involved recycling centers, officials said.

The defendants were identified in charging documents 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. 

Prosecutors are requesting $30,000 bail for most of the defendants, but have asked for a $50,000 bail from Balmore Amaya Saenz and a $10,000 bail from Solis Fuentes.