March 16, 2011
Plea agreement in deposit fraud case
The owner of a recycling facility that California officials allege bilked millions of dollars out the state's Beverage Container Recycling Fund has reached a plea agreement clearing him of most of the charges, but leaving him with a hefty bill.
In October of last year, Howard Leveson, the 68-year-old owner of Perris Valley Recycling Center, along Jose Barragan, the 35-year-old general manager of the center, and Susie Ambriz-Molina, a 25-year-old office worker, were arrested on charges that they were involved in illegally importing beverage cans and bottles from Arizona and cashing them in under the state's beverage deposit system. Leveson was also charged with illegally owning an Uzi assault weapon.
The trio was charged with a total of 18 felony counts on charges of recycling fraud, grand theft and conspiracy. Officials claim their activities cost the state $7 million.
But Leveson has cut a plea deal with the state, clearing him of all charges except the one connected to the assault weapon, according to Mark Oldfield, spokesman for California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle).
Although foggy on the details of the deal, Oldfield said that Leveson would have to pay $1.5 million into the state's beverage redemption fund, a figure he wasn't sure what went into determining. Additionally, he said that Leveson will never be allowed to run a recycling center again.
The facility Leveson ran in Perris, Riverside County, will also not be allowed to operate as a recycling center that redeems beverage containers for five years, according to Oldfield, who explained that it had long been associated with illicit activity, including past arrests of individuals seeking to defraud California's redemption fund.
"The location appears to be a magnet for non-compliant behavior," said Oldfield, who was unaware of the status of the two employees charged along with him.
Oldfield said that the large amounts of aluminum cans the facility was bringing in is what tipped off state officials.
"He was so high above the statewide average in volume it was a red flag," he said.
The California Attorney General did not respond to a request by press time.
An answering machine message on Perris Valley Recycling Center's phone line that appeared to be recorded in February states that the business had been sold and was temporarily closed for about four to six weeks beginning Feb. 15. It also stated that any unpaid tickets on brass and copper would be paid until Feb. 17.
The Perris Valley Recycling website states that it pays out the "Highest prices in S.W. Riverside County guaranteed."