U.S. Authorities Crackdown on Catalytic Converter Theft Ring

Published: 07 November 2022

Catalytic ConverterUsing precious metals, catalytic converters help reduce airborne pollutants harmful to the environment, by turning toxic emissions into less harmful gasses. (Photo: Seth Sawyers, Flickr, License)

By Inci Sayki

The U.S. Justice Department announced the takedown of a nationwide criminal ring that raked in over half a billion dollars by stealing thousands of catalytic converters from cars and trucks.

The operation included arrests, searches and seizures in California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.

Prosecutors charged 21 people with various accusations including transporting stolen catalytic converters across the country and conspiring to commit money laundering. Police executed 32 search warrants.

“This national network of criminals hurt victims across the country,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “They made hundreds of millions of dollars in the process – on the backs of thousands of innocent car owners.”

Theft of catalytic converters, the cylindrical metal components tucked beneath an automotive vehicle that convert toxic gasses into safer emissions, has become increasingly popular in the U.S. due to their value, ease to steal, and lack of identifying markings.

These metal devices can be stolen within less than a minute and sold on the black market for more than $1,000.

According to court documents many of the stolen converters were sold to DG Auto Parts LLC, a leading buyer of catalytic converters in New Jersey.

This scrap dealer then allegedly sold precious metal powders it extracted from the catalytic converters, through a “de-canning” process, to a metal refinery for more than $545 million.

Just in California, which accounts for over one third of all catalytic converter thefts in the U.S. due to its higher emission standards, three brothers were accused of selling over $38 million in stolen converters to DG Auto.

There was a threefold increase in stolen catalytic converters in 2021 from 2020, and over a 10-fold increase from 2019; and vehicles such as Toyota Prius models and large pickup trucks were among the top targets, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.