Federal authorities cracked down on catalytic converter thefts, announcing raids and arrests from California to New Jersey on Wednesday to break up a network of thieves, dealers and processors that netted hundreds of millions of dollars from the fast-growing crime. Catalytic converters are cylindrical hunks of metal in cars' exhaust systems that use pricey metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium to break down harmful gasses into less harmful ones. Thefts have been skyrocketing as thieves using battery-powered saws and high-speed jacks make off with the devices in less than a minute. Federal, local and state authorities carried out arrests, searches and seizures in California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia, reports the Wall Street Journal. “Last year approximately 1,600 catalytic converters were reportedly stolen in California each month, and California accounts for 37 percent of all catalytic converter theft claims nationwide," said U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert in California.
Authorities charged 21 defendants from five states in indictments unsealed Wednesday in the Eastern District of California and the Northern District of Oklahoma. Authorities said they executed more than 32 search warrants and seized millions of dollars in homes, bank accounts, cash and luxury vehicles. “They made hundreds of millions of dollars in the process—on the backs of thousands of innocent car owners," said FBI Director Christopher Wray. In the California case, nine defendants were charged with conspiracy to transport stolen catalytic converters, conspiracy to commit money laundering and other charges. They allegedly netted $38 million by collecting converters from local thieves and shipping them to a New Jersey firm that broke down the devices into metal powders. That firm sold the powder to a metal refinery for $545 million. In Oklahoma, officials charged 13 defendants, some of whom sold stolen converters to the same New Jersey firm for $64.5 million.