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Undercover investigation ends US catalytic converter theft ring

California authorities made a high profile arrest involving a metal recycler found with more 1 500 stolen catalytic converters. The owner of Green Metal Recycling in San Jose was taken into custody after buying the scrap metal from an undercover police officer.

A six-month investigation into a massive theft ring in the South Bay Area led to arrests and criminal charges for 15 people aged 22 to 81, reports the Bay Area News Group. The case also shut down three local scrap metal businesses involved in the activity.

Official figures show that catalytic converter thefts in the San Jose rose from 84 in 2019 to 784 in 2020 and 1 087 this year by the end of October, an increase of 1 200% in less than two years. Stricter car emission standards have seen precious metal prices (notably platinum, palladium and rhodium) reach new highs.

This makes catalytic converters an even more desirable commodity for both scrappers and thieves. At the same time, lockdown orders during the coronavirus pandemic meant more cars parked unattended on city streets for longer.

The recycler’s arrest was led by San Jose’s Burglary Prevention Unit supported by the Santa Clara district attorney, the San Mateo and Sacramento sheriff and the state Bureau of Automotive Repair. The joint task force cites grand theft, illegal weapon possession, assault with a deadly weapon and receiving stolen property as proven criminal acts.

Prosecutors add that a search of Frank’s facility and home led to police seizing US$ 50 000 (EUR 44 000) in cash and bins containing the 1 500 stolen catalytic converters with a value of US$ 3 million. The searched also turned up several handguns, an illegal assault rifle and 1 200 armour-piercing rounds.

San Jose police Chief Anthony Mata says scrap businesses operating illegally such as Green Metal Recycling ‘cater to thieves, often purchasing cut catalytic converters with no questions asked’. Thieves are ‘very brazen’ and this type of theft is still on the rise, he adds. The breakthrough in this case will ‘hopefully deter any copycats’.

It appears the gang specifically targeted older-model hybrid cars because the converters are relatively easy to access and can be forcibly removed in a matter of minutes. A San Jose resident relates how her Toyota Prius was robbed of its converter during the day, despite being parked in a gated garage.

Similar incidents may have lethal outcomes. In March, a man in Evergreen was shot dead when he challenged a group trying to steal from his vehicle parked in his driveway.

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