Feds, 70 PDs bust theft ring targeting catalytic converters
The organized theft ring stole catalytic converters from over 470 vehicles over the span of a year
By Aaron Curtis
BOSTON — A federal investigation, involving 70 police departments in Massachusetts and New Hampshire — including several local departments — resulted in the arrest of seven members of an organized theft ring who allegedly stole catalytic converters from over 470 vehicles over the span of a year, causing an estimated $2 million in losses for vehicle owners.
According to a press release from U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins' office, a popular target of the theft crew was Wilmington, where 37 catalytic converters were stolen off vehicles over a span of six nonconsecutive days.
Other area locations targeted were Billerica, Chelmsford, Burlington, Fitchburg and Leominster, where a total of 51 catalytic converters were ripped from the undercarriages of vehicles, according to prosecutors.
Joe Bonavolonta, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston field office, said at a press conference in the federal court in Boston on Wednesday that "Operation Cut and Run" culminated with the arrest of seven from western Massachusetts who allegedly conspired to steal, sell and transport hundreds of the catalytic converters across state lines.
Those arrested were Rafael "Robbin Hood" Davila, 35, of Feeding Hills, who authorities at the press conference identified as the leader of the operation; Zachary Marshall, 26, of Holyoke; and Springfield residents Jose "Goldy" Torres, who also goes by "Goldy Tech," 37; Nicolas Davila, 25; Jose "Charlito" Fonseca, 26; Santo Feliberty, 34; and Alexander "Dirty" Oyola, 37.
"We believe these alleged thieves ripped catalytic converters out of hundreds of vehicles, under the cloak of darkness, in under 60 seconds, leaving virtually no community untouched," Bonavolonta said.
Catalytic converters are a component of a vehicle's exhaust system that reduce pollutants from a vehicle's internal combustion engine into safe emissions, and use precious metals in their core, including palladium, platinum and rhodium. Prosecutors said some of these metals are more valuable per ounce than gold and their value has skyrocketed in recent years, with black-market prices exceeding $1,000 each.
The theft of a catalytic converter results in damage that renders the vehicle undriveable, both mechanically and legally under Environmental Protection Agency regulations, until replaced.
When discussing the case, Billerica Police Chief Roy Frost said the harm caused by the alleged thefts extends beyond damage to the vehicles of the victims involved.
"Many of the targeted vehicles are critical to business operations, essentially resulting in many victims being unable to work," Frost said. "This reality was exacerbated due to the global supply chain challenges, extending the downtime many of these victims were forced to absorb. Thanks to the coordinated work of many law enforcement agencies, this organized criminal operation was successfully identified and charged."
In Operation Cut and Run, prosecutors said law enforcement across Massachusetts and New Hampshire identified a hefty number of catalytic converter thefts involving a maroon Acura spotted at the scenes.
According to prosecutors, surveillance footage shows the thefts always involved at least two suspects who would target residential and commercial vehicles. The suspects were described by prosecutors as "skilled and able to locate and cut away the catalytic converter from a vehicle within a minute." To cut the catalytic converters free, prosecutors said the suspects used a battery-operated reciprocating saw.
"Like a NASCAR pit crew, these videos depict the skill and speed with which these individuals could jack up a vehicle, cut the catalytic converter out," Rollins said during Wednesday's press conference.
Prosecutors said an investigation revealed the Acura belonged to Rafael Davila, who allegedly planned and participated in each of the thefts. He is accused of engaging in the thefts on a full-time basis, allegedly committing the crimes multiple nights per week for upwards of eight hours a night.
Prosecutors allege cellphone data revealed that Rafael Davila maintained "meticulous notes" accounting for the locations that he and his co-conspirators targeted and the number of catalytic converters that had been stolen, including the makes and models and when they were dropped off.
Rafael Davila would allegedly undertake the thefts with his brother, Nicolas Davila, along with Fonseca, Feliberty and Marshall. Rafael Davila was allegedly responsible for the planning of and transportation to each targeted theft, using his vehicle, determining price values for stolen converters and purchasing needed materials.
Surveillance footage, communications and location monitoring data obtained from the defendants' cell phones and Rafael Davila's vehicle, established the group was allegedly involved in the theft of catalytic converters from 471 vehicles across Massachusetts and New Hampshire, from March 2022 to March 2023.
There could be many more vehicles impacted by the crime ring, according to prosecutors, who said "a significant number" of thefts may not have been reported.
On several occasions, prosecutors allege the group targeted more than 10 vehicles in one night, with the most thefts occurring on one night in Woburn on Aug. 16, when 26 vehicles were allegedly targeted.
Prosecutors allege once in possession of the catalytic converters, the crew would sell them to Torres, who would stockpile the components from multiple theft groups and sell them to scrap dealers and buyers in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Torres was allegedly involved in transactions resulting in approximately $30,000 to $80,000 in stolen catalytic converters per week.
Prosecutors added the scrap dealers involved have since been charged federally for interstate transportation of stolen property and money laundering.
The theft ring extended beyond catalytic converters.
According to prosecutors, Rafael Davila, Feliberty and Oyola also allegedly conspired to steal from ATMs of federally insured banks in Massachusetts on three separate occasions in December 2022. Prosecutors said they would use stolen trucks to rip ATMs from the ground in order to gain access to the vault.
Davila, Feliberty and Oyola also allegedly committed burglaries of two New Hampshire jewelry stores in January. Prosecutors said the total value of the jewelry stolen was found to be over $137,000, with each store facing approximately $10,000 in costs to repair the resulting damage.
All seven men are charged with conspiracy to transport stolen property in interstate commerce, interstate transportation of stolen property, conspiracy to commit bank theft, bank theft, and money laundering conspiracy.
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