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3 arrested on suspicion of defrauding state's aluminum can recycling program

October 20, 2010 |  7:05 pm

Leveson, Howard Fred 06121942 Three people have been arrested in connection with a recycling fraud operation in Riverside County that allegedly bilked millions of dollars out of the state’s recycling program, officials said Wednesday.

Perris Valley Recycling accepted 4.4 million pounds of aluminum trucked in from Arizona and then claimed as much as $7 million in reimbursement from the California Beverage Container Recycling Fund, according to a news release from state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown.

The center’s owner, Howard Leveson, 68, and two of its employees were arrested last week and face a total of 18 felony counts. Leveson was also charged with illegal possession of an assault weapon after authorities found an Uzi assault rifle in his home.

Leveson’s bail was set at $300,000 Wednesday. Bail for employees Jose Barragan, 35, and Susie Ambriz-Molina, 25, was set at $30,000 each.

“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,” Brown said in a statement. “They brazenly defrauded the states’ successful recycling program.”

Mark Oldfield, a spokesman for the Department of Resources and Recovery -- CalRecycle -- said there have been more recycling fraud arrests recently as the department has “stepped up its anti-fraud effort.”

The Perris Valley investigation was conducted jointly by CalRecycle, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and special agents with the attorney general’s office, he said.

Oldfield said the high volume of aluminum collected by Perris Valley Recycling made investigators suspicious. From February 2009 to July of this year, the center collected as much as 10,000 pounds of aluminum daily, according to the attorney general. Recycling centers typically collect about 500 pounds a day.

Oldfield said that when investigators visited the center, they found long lines of trucks waiting to drop off huge amounts of aluminum. CalRecycle requires centers to report any purchase of more than 250 pounds of aluminum, but authorities claim that Perris Valley tried to hide the large quantities they accepted by creating multiple tickets for each truck.

California bottle deposit laws provide a $1.57 reimbursement per pound of aluminum cans. Consumers pay a deposit when they purchase a beverage. Private recycling centers then pay consumers who bring the used cans to them, collect a reimbursement from the state and then re-sell the scrap metal. The state fund loses money when cans from other states are returned in California, Oldfield said.

Perris Valley Recycling, in the city of Perris in Riverside County, remains open, Oldfield said, although restrictions have been placed on the center.

-- Sam Allen

Photo: Howard Leveson Credit: California attorney general's office

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