If your vehicle’s catalytic converter was one of 44,000 recently stolen in Washington, Nevada, California, Texas, Oregon or New York, authorities may have arrested the group responsible.
Police detectives in Beaverton, Oregon, said they’ve identified the man who orchestrated a $22 million catalytic converter trafficking operation based in Portland and spanning six states since January 2021. A Washington County grand jury indicted 12 people on racketeering, aggravated theft, money laundering and other charges on July 29, police said Thursday.
Oregon detectives began investigating late last year. After searching eight locations, they uncovered last week 3,000 catalytic converters, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, a vehicle and jewelry, authorities said.
Since March 2020, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported a “meteoric” rise in thefts of the sought-after automobile parts, which can cost up to $3,000 to replace.
Here’s what to know about catalytic converter thefts and how to prevent them.
How did Oregon police bust the trafficking ring?
Police say in late 2021, they discovered Tanner Lee Hellbusch, 32, was pulled over in March with over 100 stolen catalytic converters worth about $80,000 in his vehicle, Beaverton authorities said.
That month, authorities identified Brennan Patrick Doyle, 32, as the ringleader. The two men and 10 other people were charged with racketeering, aggravated theft and money laundering. Two others involved have yet to be indicted as of Friday, Washington County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Stephen Mayer told USA TODAY.
Police say an investigation uncovered that they were involved in the primarily West Coast-based catalytic converter theft ring over the past five months.
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Why are people stealing catalytic converters?
Catalytic converters are targeted for the valuable metals inside — rhodium, platinum and palladium. Just a few grams of these can yield large profits, though catalytic converters each only contain a small amount of them. The parts are hard to track but easy for an expert thief to remove, according to Allstate.
The car parts can bring between $20 to $240 in recycling value depending on how much and the type of precious metals they contain, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which reported catalytic converters can be resold to precious metal dealers for up to thousands of dollars an ounce.
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Doyle’s organization capitalized on the metals’ increased prices, allege authorities. Rhodium is now valued at over $14,000 an ounce compared to about $2,500 an ounce in 2019, according to the Beaverton Police Department. Platinum was valued at $958 per ounce and palladium was worth $2,276 per ounce as of Friday, according to Monex.
How to prevent catalytic converter thefts
If you drive a hybrid vehicle, SUV or truck, thieves are more likely to target your easier-to-remove catalytic converter, according to Allstate. The insurance company recommends etching your license plate number or Vehicle Identification Number onto the car part, making it easier to find the owner if stolen.
Allstate also suggested:
- installing anti-theft devices
- parking in well-lit areas
- adding motion-sensitive lights and cameras to your parking areas
- painting the catalytic converters as theft deterrents
Some police departments, including in Chicago, offer to spray paint and mark catalytic converters for drivers.
Cracking down on catalytic converter thefts
As catalytic converter thefts rise, so have states’ efforts to combat the crimes. The National Insurance Crime Bureau is tracking at least 150 US bills introduced to address thefts as of August.
Here’s a look at how the government is protecting drivers:
- In California: Lawmakers have nearly a dozen bills in the works, including one that would prevent purchasing the car part from anyone other than certain specified sellers
- In Washington, D.C.: The Preventing Auto Recycling Thefts (PART) Act, introduced in January, would require a Vehicle Identification Number on catalytic converters in new vehicles
- In Minnesota: A bill was introduced that would penalize unauthorized possession of a catalytic converter.
- In New York: Lawmakers have made progress on a bill that would require new car dealers to stock etching kits to offer anyone buying a new vehicle
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