Published On: Fri, May 13th, 2011

Detectives Dig Into Plastics Recycling Crime Ring, Recover $1.3M in Stolen Property

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies out of the department’s Industry station announced progress in a three-year investigation into crime rings specializing in recycling and selling stolen plastic containers.


Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators announced Wednesday the recovery of around $1.3 million in stolen plastic containers, boxes, and crates found at businesses throughout the San Gabriel Valley.

Sheriff’s officials said the recovered property is part of a “complex web” of organized crime operating nationally and internationally that deals in stealing, recycling, and reselling trademark plastic containers.

The stolen plastic products, which are being stored by police at a warehouse belonging to the city of Industry, range from small milk crates to large plastic beverage pallets that Don Sachs, executive director of the city of Industry Manufacturers Council, said would slip out the back door without much concern in better economic times.

“Now, when (businesses) are looking at their pallets and thinking that they have to lay people off because times are tough, they realize the cost factors here,” Sachs said.

Sgt. Edwin Alvarez of the Industry Sheriff’s Special Assignment Team said that no recycling or storage facilities dealing in stolen plastics were found in Diamond Bar or Walnut, but that area businesses have been affected by the thefts, operating from facilities in neighboring cities like Pomona to the East and El Monte to the West.

Since stolen and recycled products are hard to trace back to an original owner, Alvarez said there is no estimate of what the loss to Diamond Bar or Walnut businesses might be.

Sachs said that the problem is partly a lack of security at larger stores and smaller stores that don’t have space to store excess plastic pallets and containers.

The problem for the City of Industry, Sachs said, is particularly large as 92 percent of the city is zoned for industrial uses and the city hosts over 2,500 businesses.

“With that type of activity, businesses would not be able to function without pallets and containers,” Sachs said.

Lead Detective Shelley Jones from the Sheriff’s Industry station said the investigation began around three years ago and found that stolen plastics cost businesses in the San Gabriel Valley nearly $10 million annually.

The estimated $1.3 million displayed in storage in Industry on Wednesday represented all of the merchandise recovered by the department since November of 2010.

After the theft of these items, sheriff’s deputies found that plastic containers were often being resold to area businesses after being stolen, recycled, and remade.

Amos DeGroot, a representative of Rockview Dairy based in Downey, said his company buys around 1,000 plastic cases a day for transporting products.

DeGroot said recyclers are “claiming that they’re helping by recycling, but they are buying stolen merchandise and remaking it to sell back to suppliers.”

Sheriff’s officials said that a truckload of stolen pallets could received around $100 when taken to a recycling facility.

Sachs said that when businesses used wood pallets in past previous years, tall poles would be used to stack the storage platforms, making it difficult for potential thieves to lift the pallets over the pole to cart them away.

Sgt. Alvarez said sheriff’s deputies are beginning to spread the word about the problem and working to educate recycling centers about the illegal products they could be asked to purchase and recycle.

To protect against the crimes, Alvarez said businesses might consider installing surveillance cameras in areas where pallets and empty shipment containers are kept.

So far, sheriff’s officials reported that six cases have been opened against recycling centers found to be involved in recycling stolen plastics.
What do you think Sheriff’s deputies can do to crack down on these crimes? Has your business had this problem? Tell us in the comments.


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