Feds Bust Massive $545 Million Catalytic Converter Theft Ring

Authorities are seeking the collective forfeiture of around $545 million in home, luxury cars, and cash.

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Feds Bust Massive $545 Million Catalytic Converter Theft Ring © Feds Bust Massive $545 Million Catalytic Converter Theft Ring

Catalytic converter thefts have gone way up in recent months. Thieves simply pop under high-value targets in broad daylight with a Sawzall, cut off the goods, and stash the hoard in a garage until they can sell them to a scrap yard—if their local government hasn't established a law to prevent those sales, that is.

The federal government has noticed this trend as well and has been working to help clamp down on the theft of these expensive emission parts. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed records to reveal that it had busted what might just be the biggest national ring of cat thieves to date.

A catalytic converter bust in Texas from August 2022.

A statement issued by the Justice Department says that it charged 21 people believed to be involved in the ring. The people live in five states, however, arrests, searches, and seizures took place in California, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Virginia. In total, the U.S. government says that it is seeking around $545 million in civil forfeitures—that include homes, luxury cars, and cash—that are related to crimes and the defendant's thefts.

The ring is believed to have operated both legitimate and unregistered businesses which profited by purchasing stolen catalytic converters. Some of the individuals charged are accused of buying stolen catalytic converters directly from thieves, affirmed by confidential informants and monitored sales organized by the DOJ, while other businesses are believed to have knowingly purchased the stolen goods second-hand.

The business at the center of the DOJ's investigation is New Jersey-based DG Auto that touts its willingness to purchase catalytic converters for "top dollar" online and even via an app for iOS devices. Prosecutors allege that DG Auto "knew or should have known" that the cats were stolen when they purchased them, as some were marked with paint to indicate that they may have been stolen from a vehicle. Despite this, DG Auto is alleged to have still accepted shipments of the stolen catalytic converters in order to extract the lucrative precious metals found within. The processed metals from the cats were then sold to refineries for hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Amidst a rise in catalytic converter thefts across the country, the Justice Department has today carried out an operation arresting 21 defendants and executing 32 search warrants in a nationwide takedown of a multimillion-dollar catalytic converter theft network,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “We will continue to work alongside our state and local partners to disrupt criminal conspiracies like this one that target the American people.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray says that those charged this week made hundreds of millions of dollars off of property stolen from innocent car owners. And as if you couldn't see it with your own eyes, collected data backs up Garland's notion that catalytic converter theft is on the rise. The National Insurance Crime Bureau says that thefts jumped 325% nationally from just 2019 to 2020, and reports from individual states like Texas indicate a 2,000% rise from 2019 to 2021.

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