SACRAMENTO, Calif. -

California Department of Justice officials arrested six people in two different cases for importing empty beverage containers from Washington State to California and then illegally redeeming them for California refund value.

State officials estimate the amount of fraud in the two cases totaled approximately $425,000.

"Fraud against the Beverage Container Recycling Fund is theft from the people of California,” said CalRecycle Director Caroll Mortensen. “We have instituted new regulations and procedures to protect the fund, and we will work with the DOJ to have those who steal from the fund prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

In the first case, DOJ investigators found that Mario Morales Nolasco regularly traveled to Shelton, Washington and returned to California with loads of empty beverage containers weighing as much as  1,800 pounds. Those were then illegally redeemed for California Refund Value.

Nolasco, an Oakland resident, was certified by CalRecycle to operate a collection program, which either serves businesses such as bars and restaurants by hauling away their CRV materials or operates collection bins in central areas.  

Maria Garcia Nicasio, Saul Chavez and Francisco Reyes-Barrios, all of Shelton, were identified as Nolasco's co-conspirators. 

DOJ investigators say that on Jan. 26, Nicasio, Chavez and Reyes-Barrios arrived at a certified processing facility with two trucks and met Nolasco there. Using his certification as cover, they then sold 9,000 pounds of aluminum beverage containers for $13,320. DOJ agents followed the suspects to Oakland and arrested them. All four were booked into Alameda County Jail on suspicion of conspiracy, grand theft and recycling fraud. 

Based upon the investigation and CalRecycle records, they are suspected to have defrauded the state's recycling fund of approximately $329,887.

Nolasco and Nicasio pleaded no contest last month to felonies. Chavez and Reyes-Barrios pleaded no contest to misdemeanors.

Nolasco will be sentenced this week to 178 days in jail and five years of probation. His collection program certification was reveoked and he will be ordered to pay $146,000 in restitution to CalRecycle.

Nicasio also will be sentenced this week to 120 days in jail and five years of probation. She'll have to pay $9,999 in restitution.

Chavez and Reyes-Barrios previously were sentenced to 76 days in jail and three years of probation, with restitution orders set at $8,000 and $4,000, respectively.

In the second case, Bulmaro Elias Martinez of Yakima, Washington was observed regularly buying empty beverage containers from the public in his home state. He'd then sort, crush and re-bag them before transporting the material to California in a rented commercial truck. DOJ investigators say he was then giving it to Ray Montalvo Campos, who would sell the cans in small batches to Modesto-area recycling centers for CRV. They're suspected of defrauding the state of $95,000.

Martinez was arrested in January and is being held in the Yakima County Jail, awaiting extradition to Stanislaus County to face charges of conspiracy, grand theft and recycling fraud.

Campos was arrested in February and later pleaded no contest to a felony. He was ordered to pay $11,000 in restitution and serve 120 days in jail followed by three years of probation.

California's CRV applies only to beverages purchased in California. CalRecycle is undertaking a major and multipronged effort to protect the recycling fund, including new approaches to curb fraud.