Catalytic converter theft ring left Virginia, other US states with millions in losses: DOJ

Charges have been filed against members of a coordinated theft ring that stole millions of dollars worth of catalytic converters in states across the U.S., including in Virginia, according to federal officials.

The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that 21 people are were arrested and charged in connection with the theft ring. According to federal officials the thefts happened in California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Catalytic converters, like this one, are being stolen for the precious metals they contain. (Photo by Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty)

Catalytic converters, like this one, are being stolen for the precious metals they contain. (Photo by Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty)

Officials say the national network of thieves made tens of millions of dollars from stolen catalytic converters by selling them to a metal refinery. The car part has become a hot commodity for thieves, since it contains rare metals, such as rhodium, platinum, and palladium, and can be valued at hundreds of dollars at scrapyards.

The defendants face several charges related to transporting stolen catalytic converters and conspiracy to commit money laundering. They have been in two different indictments from separate courts, the Eastern District of California and the Northern District of Oklahoma.

READ MORE: Multiple catalytic converters stolen from vehicles in Stafford County, police say

In both indictments, the court records reveal that the defendants shipped the stolen catalytic converters to DG Auto in New Jersey, where they were "de-canned" and sold to a metal refinery. 15 of the defendants are charged for the stealing and shipping of the parts, while six workers from DG Auto are charged for the "de-canning" and selling process. "De-canning" is the process by which precious metals are extracted from a catalytic converter.

The ring allegedly made about $545 million from the process, the Justice Department said. The federal government is seeking that amount in forfeitures from the defendants.

READ MORE: Virginia General Assembly approves legislation to tackle catalytic converter thefts

While investigating the theft ring, a team of law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels seized hundreds of millions of dollars in assets from the defendants, including homes, bank accounts, cash, and luxury cars.

"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. Today’s charges showcase how the FBI and its partners act together to stop crimes that hurt all too many Americans."

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Catalytic converters are a component of an automotive vehicle's exhaust device that reduce the toxic gas and pollutants from a vehicle's internal combustion engine into safe emissions. The black-market price for catalytic converters can be above $1,000 each, depending on the type of vehicle and what state it is from. The part can also be stolen in less than a minute, making them easy targets for thieves.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, catalytic converter thefts have been dramatically rising across the country since 2018. In 2020, 14,433 catalytic converters were reported stolen, marking a 352 percent increase in thefts from the previous year.