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Eight arrested in sophisticated plastic-theft ring

January 3, 2013 | 12:43 pm

Plastics bust

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies arrested eight people in connection with a sophisticated plastic-theft ring, officials said.

Members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Industrial Plastic Theft Task Force said they also recovered more than $115,000 worth of stolen plastics Wednesday morning at two locations, one in South El Monte and one in Lynwood.

Southern California is in the midst of an epidemic of plastic theft, as enterprising thieves scavenge plastic bread trays, beverage containers and pallets from behind stores and take them to illegal grinding operations to be ground down and then resold to plastic manufacturers.

The problem has become so severe that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in 2011 put together a team of officers devoted to ferreting out plastics theft. Over the last year and a half, the task force has turned over 47 criminal cases to prosecutors. More than 50 people have been charged with possessing stolen property, and most have pleaded guilty. The team has recovered more than $6 million in stolen plastic.

Wednesday's bust followed a lengthy investigation, and led officials to Broadway Plastics in the 2000 block of Lee Avenue in South El Monte and a residence in Lynwood.

All eight people arrested, including six men and two women, many of them members of the same family, were charged with receiving known stolen property, according to Sheriff's Sgt. Nabeel Mitry, who heads the task force.

Mitry said this investigation illustrates that plastics thieves in Southern California are becoming more sophisticated, in part, he said, because of increased law enforcement attention to the issue.

"They're getting a lot more clever," he said. In the past, he said, many plastic thieves stole in plain sight because few recognized the removal of plastics from the loading docks of big box stores as a crime. Scavengers would then drive the plastic straight to illegal grinding operations, many of which were located in small warehouses in South Los Angeles.

But now, Mitry said, thieves are "doing counter surveillance on us" and "being very evasive in their routes."

"It's just getting a lot more complex," he said.

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-- Jessica Garrison

Photo: Members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Industrial Plastic Theft Task Force recovered more than $115,000 worth of stolen plastics Wednesday. Credit:  Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

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