It seemed a perfect symmetry: California, the world’s high-tech capital, would lead the way in recycling the debris of our digital revolution.

But five years after its launch, the state government-run electronic waste program stands out not as a model of the green innovation for which California is famous but as an example of good intentions gone awry.

By paying more than $320 million to collect and recycle computer monitors and televisions, the state has built a magnet for fraud totaling tens of millions of dollars, including illegal material smuggled in from out of state.

“I don’t think anybody could have forecast the greed that has poisoned the program,” said Bob Erie, chief executive officer of E-World Recyclers north of San Diego and once an enthusiastic supporter of the state effort.

None of the many states that followed California took on e-waste recycling as a government program; instead they made industry responsible for its own waste.

California officials have long been aware of the problems with their approach, too; they met with recycling industry officials two years ago at a private club in Los Angeles to discuss solutions, including whether the state should be in the e-waste business at all.

But nothing has changed. Instead, The Bee found:

— Recyclers and collectors have submitted $23 million in faulty and fraudulent e-waste claims that have been rejected by the state. But state and industry officials estimate that other ineligible claims, totaling as much as $30 million, may have inadvertently been paid.

— More than two dozen e-waste firms have been investigated for fraud by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control over the past two years, but none has been fined or prosecuted.

— Even though California officials know that illegal e-waste is flowing into the state — and acknowledge that public funds are being wasted recycling some of it — no state official has traveled out of state to investigate.

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