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Bail Set for Recycling Center Owner Accused in $7 Million Conspiracy Involving Millions of Pounds of Aluminum Cans

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Contact: (415) 703-5837

RIVERSIDE – Bail of $300,000 was set today for a Riverside County recycling center owner arrested along with two employees last week by special agents with the Attorney General’s office for bilking the state’s beverage container recycling program out of $7 million. Bail was set at $30,000 each for the two employees.

“These people pretended to be recycling California aluminum cans when they were really importing tons of cans from Arizona, which are not eligible for California’s recycling refunds,” Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said. “They brazenly defrauded the state’s successful recycling program.”

Howard Leveson, 68, owner of Perris Valley Recycling in Perris, Riverside County; Jose Barragan, 35, the center’s general manager, and Susie Ambriz-Molina, 25, an office worker, were arrested October 12. Leveson was also charged with illegal possession of an assault weapon.

They face a total of 18 felony counts on charges including recycling fraud, grand theft and conspiracy. If convicted of all charges, they could each spend seven years in prison.

Special agents with the Attorney General’s office, working with the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), conducted the investigation into Perris Valley Recycling with the help of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. The Attorney General’s office is prosecuting the case. CalRecycle oversees the state’s beverage container recycling program.

A search of Leveson’s home and business recovered $50,973 in cash and an Uzi assault rifle. In addition, Leveson’s assets and those of his business were frozen, including $4.2 million in bank accounts.

From February 2009 until July 2010, Perris Valley Recycling collected as much as 10,000 pounds per day in aluminum cans, far more than comparable facilities, which average about 500 pounds per day. The unusually high volume indicated the possibility that out-of-state containers were being brought to the facility.

In Arizona, aluminum is sold only for its scrap value. California, however, has the added incentive of the California Refund Value (CRV) deposit, which pays $1.57 for a pound of used aluminum cans.

Investigators estimate Perris Valley Recycling took in 4.4 million pounds of cans trucked from Arizona, then illegally claimed as much as $7 million in reimbursement from the California Beverage Container Recycling Fund.

As a deterrent to such fraud, recycling centers are required to report to CalRecycle purchases of more than 250 pounds of aluminum CRV material. According to investigators, Perris Valley Recycling hid the size of incoming loads by creating multiple weight tickets for trucks coming in with loads larger than 250 pounds, making it appear they were many individuals with smaller loads.

Over the past five months, 20 people have been arrested for making deliveries of out-of-state containers to the Perris center, whose slogan is “It’s Not Trash, It’s Cash.” Perris Valley Recycling remains open, however CalRecycle continues to conduct inspections and has placed restrictions on the center’s reimbursement claims.

In California, consumers pay CRV at the checkout stand when purchasing beverages in bottles or cans. When the empty container is redeemed at one of California’s more than 2,000 recycling centers, the CRV is returned to the consumer. Recycling centers recoup the CRV from the state and then make money by reselling the materials for scrap value. When an out-of-state can or bottle is fraudulently redeemed in California, the program loses money.

"By cracking down on fraud, we send an unmistakable message that criminal activity that undermines California’s beverage container recycling program will not be tolerated,” said CalRecycle Director Margo Reid Brown. “CalRecycle investigators will continue to work with law enforcement to put a stop to recycling fraud and hold accountable those responsible.”

California's program began in 1987. Last year, 82 percent of the CRV cans and bottles purchased in the state were returned for recycling. California is one of 11 states with a bottle and can redemption program.

To learn more about CalRecycle and the California Beverage Container Recycling Program, visit http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/. CalRecycle contact: Mark Oldfield (916) 319-9942 or (916) 616-9683 (cell) or mark.oldfield@CalRecycle.ca.gov.

The suspects’ booking photographs are available upon request.

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