Franco was charged with one count of conspiracy, seven counts of illegal transportation and disposal of hazardous waste and one count of illegal export of hazardous waste to Mexico. Torres was charged with one count of conspiracy, six counts of illegal transportation and disposal of hazardous waste and one count of illegal export of hazardous waste to Mexico.
If convicted, Franco faces a maximum sentence of 32 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each count. Torres faces a maximum of 27 years in custody, and a fine of $250,000 for each count.
Investigators said they placed Franco under surveillance in 1988 after he was identified as a possible suspect during routine monitoring by county health department officials of local waste generating companies.
While under surveillance in October, 1988, Franco and Torres met at Laminating Co. of America and loaded 16 drums of hazardous waste onto two trucks. Torres headed north in his truck but investigators lost track of him before he made any stops.
The other truck, driven by a Mexican national, headed to the border, investigators said. The CHP stopped the vehicle before it reached the border and the driver was arrested and subsequently prosecuted by Orange County authorities for illegally transporting hazardous waste, according to Los Angeles County investigators. The man served jail time and eventually returned to Mexico.
As undercover investigators continued to watch Franco, prosecutors said, they saw repeated illegal activities at Laminating Co. According to the indictment, the firm's employees were seen on several occasions illegally disposing of hazardous wastes in trash bins destined for a municipal landfill in the city of Orange. Franco also was seen dumping hazardous materials into an ordinary trash bin.
The waste, eventually picked up by the municipal garbage company and taken to Santiago Landfill, should have been put into special containers and taken to a licensed hazardous waste facility.
Frank Bowerman, chief engineer and director of Orange County's newly created Integrated Waste Management Department, said he was "very surprised" to hear the allegation that some of the toxic waste ended up at Santiago, which is not licensed to accept such materials.
"We take every opportunity to make sure the wrong things don't get in there," Bowerman said. "I can't say we don't miss anything. But it would be awfully hard to get something by us."
Bowerman said he has "three lines of defense" at each of the county's four dump sites. He said loads are scrutinized by one set of inspectors at the front gate, another group that watches as loads are dumped, and a third set who drive bulldozers and can spot suspicious containers that might have been hidden in trucks.
But Orange County Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi said he suspects it is too easy to slip a toxic substance into a public dump. He called on citizens with information about illegal dumping to notify authorities. If a company puts toxic materials out with its trash, haulers are likely to take it to public dump sites, he said.
In the meantime, Barmet Aluminum Corp. notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that hazardous waste facilities where Franco and Torres were supposed to have taken Barmet's materials had not, in fact, received them. The corporation, based in Ohio, has aluminum recycling plants across the nation.
"The guy (Franco) did something wrong," said Jorge Eulloqui, division manager of the corporation's Torrance facility. "We trusted him, we hired him under good conscience and he defrauded our company."
Los Angeles County and federal prosecutors, who announced the filing of the indictments at a news conference in Los Angeles, said they hope they will deter illegal dumping in the future.
"Companies realize it's cheaper to pollute than to dispose of hazardous material properly," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Adam B. Schiff, who is helping to prosecute the cases. "We hope the announcement of the indictments and the task force will impress individuals that the calculus is changing dramatically, that the costs are going up dramatically."
The new environmental task force will include representatives of the FBI, the EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the California Highway Patrol and the California Department of Health Services.
Officials said halting waste trafficking into Mexico will be a top priority of the task force, which will have jurisdiction over much of Southern California.
Times staff writer Catherine Gewertz contributed to this report from Orange County. Dolan and Stammer reported from Los Angeles.