Twenty-one people in five states have been arrested, accused of being part of a nationwide catalytic converter theft ring, the Justice Department reported Wednesday.
The arrests took place in California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada and North Carolina, the Justice Department said. Some of the suspects have already been charged for their roles in the conspiracy, prosecutors said.
Ten different federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies participated in the investigation, executing 32 search warrants. Law enforcement officials seized millions of dollars in assets from the suspects, including homes, bank accounts, cash and luxury vehicles.
The DOJ said brothers Tou Sue Vang and Andrew Vang, along with Monica Moua, allegedly sold over $38 million in stolen catalytic converters to DG Auto in New Jersey. They operated an unlicensed business out of their home in Sacramento, California, where they bought stolen catalytic converters from local thieves, prosecutors allege.
The operators of DG Auto, a company that buys catalytic converters, knowingly purchased stolen catalytic converters, extracted the precious metal powders and sold them to a metal refinery for over $545 million, prosecutors claim.
Other defendants in the case include Tyler James Curtis, who received over $13 million in wired funds from DG Auto for the shipment of catalytic converters, as well as another $500,000 from another company for catalytic converters, prosecutors said.
Defendant Adam G. Sharkey received over $45 million in wired funds from DG Auto, while defendant Martynas Macerauskas received over $6 million in payments from DG Auto, the DOJ said.
A federal grand jury in California returned a 40‑count indictment, charging nine of the defendants with conspiracy to transport stolen catalytic converters, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and other related charges.
“With California’s higher emission standards, our community has become a hot bed for catalytic converter theft,” U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert for the Eastern District of California said in a statement.
Talbert said approximately 1,600 catalytic converters were stolen in California each month last year. California accounts for 37% of all catalytic converter theft claims nationwide, he said.
Meanwhile, a federal grand jury in Oklahoma returned a 40-count indictment against 13 defendants in the case.
U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson for the Northern District of Oklahoma said in a statement that 2,000 catalytic converters were stolen in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last year.
“Organized criminal activity, including the large-scale theft of catalytic converters, is costly to victims and too often places citizens and law enforcement in danger,” Johnson said.
Catalytic converter theft is on the rise in the U.S., the DOJ said in its press release. The car part reduces the toxic gas and pollutants from a vehicle’s internal combustion engine into safe emissions. They are typically stolen because they contain precious metals like palladium, platinum, and rhodium.
Some of these metals are more valuable than gold, and their value has been increasing.
Catalytic converters can cost more than $1,000 each on the black market, the DOJ said. They are also easy to steal — with a thief able to lift them from a car in less than a minute.
They often lack serial numbers, so they are difficult to trace once removed from the car.
“Thus, the theft of catalytic converters has become increasingly popular because of their value, relative ease to steal, and their lack of identifying markings,” the DOJ said.
On Friday, in an unrelated case, a suspect was arrested in Chicago for allegedly attempting to steal a catalytic converter, CBS Chicago
The owner of a muffler shop in Denver said his shop has manufactured and installed as many as 1,000 shields that are welded into cars to protect catalytic converters,
Many autobody shops offer similar protection. Farmers Insurance recommends looking into these anti-left devices. The company also recommends etching your license plate number into the catalytic converter, so it is traceable if found. It also suggests parking in a well lit area and making sure your car’s alarm is on.