A task force based out of sheriff’s Industry Station shut down an illegal recycling operation in Compton and seized about $500,000 worth of stolen plastic, officials said Friday.
The bust took place about 9 a.m. Wednesday in the 500 block of East Pine Street in Compton, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
The owner of the recycling business, 67-year-old Ernest Ojeda of Compton, was arrested on suspicion of receiving stolen property and illegal possession of trademarked plastic products, officials said. He was released from jail after posting $20,000 bail.
Investigators from the sheriff’s Industry Station have found nearly $4 million in stolen plastic, primarily plastic pallets taken from businesses and mail containers taken from the U.S. Post Office, Detective Shelley Jones said.
The trend of plastic theft is a growing one, the detective said. “This is only going to get bigger.”
In addition to arresting Ojeda and seizing the plastic, officials also closed down his business, which has not held a permit in four years, Shelley said.
About 50 bags of ground up plastic weighing 2,000 pounds each were found in the recycling center, and about 10,000 more plastic pallets were found in a house adjacent to the recycling center owned by a family member of Ojeda. A plastic grinder and a saw were also taken as evidence.
Firefighters responded to the business to collect “oil and other toxic substances” found at the recycling center.
“The theft of these plastics is an organized effort by thieves who have trucks and co-conspirators working at businesses throughout Los Angeles County and the entire region,” according to the sheriff’s statement. “Sheriff’s investigators are recovering property stolen from victims throughout Los Angeles County, especially the San Gabriel Valley, as well as communities in neighboring counties such as the Inland Empire. The plastic pallets are often stolen from the loading docks behind businesses.”
The Pine Street operation was believed to be related to another uncovered by sheriff’s investigators on Oct. 10 at a commercial building less than a mile away in the 2700 block of North Alameda Street in Compton, officials said. Ojeda is believed to know four suspects arrested in that case.
About $2 million worth of allegedly stolen plastic was recovered from the Alameda Street address, along with more than 500 marijuana plants. About 6,000 of the recovered pallets belonged to the U.S. Postal Service, and officials are seeking federal charges against the suspects.
In May, the task force displayed about $1.3 million worth of plastic pallets stolen from businesses throughout Los Angeles County that investigators had collected over the previous five months.
In response to the success of the investigation, the City of Industry in early September funded a plastic task force at the sheriff’s Industry Station to combat the problem county wide.