Related: Sheriff's task force breaks up plastic recycling ring in South El Monte; eight arrested
Although it has recovered more than $7 million in stolen goods in the past 16 months, funding for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Industrial Plastic Theft Task Force is due to expire this month, officials said Friday.
Based at the sheriff's Industry Station, the five-person task force is the first of its kind targeting the theft of trademarked plastic goods.
Since its inception in September 2011, task force members have made 65 arrests - all but one resulting in felony charges - and shut down 28 locations where pilfered plastics were being stored or ground up for recycling, deputies said.
Plastic thefts have become a major problem for Southland business, officials said. With plastic selling for about 15 cents a pound, thieves see milk crates, pallets and bread trays as a quick source of cash. They sell them to local recyclers, who then ground them into pellets that are often shipped to Asian plastics manufacturers.
It is not uncommon for the pilfered plastic to end up being resold to the victimized companies.
"Some companies will go out of business because of the thefts. They can't sustain it," said Capt. Michael Claus, who heads the sheriff's Industry Station.
A milk crate, for instance, costs a typical business about $4.50 to replace.
Wednesday task force members recovered about $24,000 worth of plastic products stolen from the U.S. Postal Service in Rancho Cucamonga, authorities said.
The bust came on the heels of another that occurred Jan. 2 at locations in South El Monte and Lynwood, in which nine suspects were arrested and $115,000 worth of stolen plastic was recovered.
The task force is completely funded by the City of Industry, said Sgt. Nabeel Mitry, who heads it.
Originally given a $1.27 million, one-year grant, the task force has stretched the funds for 16 months.
Mitry said sheriff's officials plan to give a presentation at Thursday's City Council meeting to encourage council members to renew funding.
Clause said he plans to "do my presentation and show them how successful the task force has been, and let them determine what they want to do with it."
Mitry said he would hate to see the task force disbanded after all it has accomplished.
"We've invested so much into this," he said, adding that he worried plastic thefts would skyrocket if the task force was disbanded.
Following Wednesday's bust at the Rancho Cucamonga warehouse in the 9300 block of 7th Street, three suspects were charged with felony possession of stolen property, Mitry said.
Joseph Orellano, 25, of Rancho Cucamonga and Juan Reyes, 30, of Montclair were arrested at the scene, Mitry said. Orellano's father and the alleged mastermind of the alleged ring, Raul Orellano, 45, of Rancho Cucamonga, who was not present Wednesday, was charged along with the other two suspects Friday.
Raul Orellano was previously arrested, but not charged, when the task force raided a similar plastic recycling operation in Ontario last year, Mitry said.
Only one plastic pallet had been cut up in preparation for grinding when authorities arrived at the Rancho Cucamonga warehouse late Wednesday, the sergeant said.
"It appeared as though they just got the shipment," he said.
The stolen plastics most often take the forms of pallets and crates, such as those used to ship soft drinks.
Also this month, the task force dismantled an alleged stolen plastic recycling ring operating in South El Monte and Lynwood, officials said.
Nine suspects were arrested, some at a Lynwood home and others at Broadway Plastics Inc. in the 2000 block of South Lee Avenue in South El Monte.
Clause said plastic theft is a growing problem, and not just in the Southland.
"This is happening all over the United States," he said. "We need to come out with some sort of funding to continue this, not just at our level, but this needs to grow."