Not guilty pleas from seven USS Midway workers accused in recycl - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Not guilty pleas from seven USS Midway workers accused in recycling theft ring

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Seven employees accused of stealing $90,000 in recyclable metals from remodeling jobs aboard the USS Midway Museum pleaded not guilty Tuesday to grand theft charges.

Erskine Eugene Arnold III, 35, Freddy Gomez, 26, Rolando Guzman Jaca, 61, Arturo Leal Perianez, 41, Alexander Pingul Magtoto, 46, and Edward Questa Ragucos and Robert Michael Valencia, both 32, face three-year prison terms if convicted.

Deputy District Attorney John Cross alleged that the defendants, part of a maintenance crew that worked on remodeling projects aboard the USS Midway between 2011 and 2012, took scrap metal from the projects to a recycling center and kept the money for themselves.

Cross said USS Midway officials received information that there was a loss of scrap metal going on and conducted an internal investigation.

A museum newsletter distributed to employees and volunteers in January said "items that are big time in the recycling business (steel, copper, aluminum) were taken for recycling, but only a portion of the money was returned to the Midway. This involves several hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years.''

Michael Berg, the attorney for Robert Valencia, said the scrap metal in question "was just basically garbage, it was junk. Much as any homeless person walks through and takes trash out of a Dumpster and takes it to recycling (centers), these gentlemen took basically junk or garbage to a recycling center,'' he told reporters.

"It would be different if the Midway had said, 'We want you to take these items to the recycling center,' and they took it to the recycling center and kept the money, but that's not what took place here,'' Berg said. "These are items that were basically thrown out as trash; it was left for garbage. They went through the garbage and recycled it. I don't think there's been any crime committed.''

The defendants -- all out of custody on their own recognizance -- will be back in court Nov. 5 for a preliminary hearing.

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