Massive Bay Area catalytic converter bust offers insight into where parts go

An 11-month-long investigation led to the identification of 30 suspects

By Michelle Robertson
SFGate, San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO — A tip from a citizen led to massive, 11-month-long investigation resulting in the identification of 30 people suspected to be involved in catalytic converter thefts in the Bay Area, the Livermore Police Department announced Thursday.

In January, a Livermore resident reportedly noticed people acting suspiciously and obtained a photo of a partial license plate, which they submitted to police.

Livermore police, in conjunction with Pleasanton police, decided to pursue the partial license plate, given the immense rise in catalytic converter thefts throughout the state in recent years. The investigation led them to three different Bay Area counties, police said.

On Oct. 25, the two police departments concluded their initial investigation and served a search warrant in Stockton, leading to the identification of about 30 suspects, police said. More than 50 catalytic converters, $91,000 in cash, illegal weapons and drugs and stolen vehicles were also found during the search, police said.

During the investigation, police also identified "multiple locations" that had operated as "chop shops" for stolen goods and determined that hundreds of catalytic converters had been dropped there and dismantled, police said. Two such alleged chop shops were shut down.

[RELATED: Addressing catalytic converter theft]

Police referred to the suspects as participating in a "criminal theft ring where thieves would steal catalytic converters throughout California and Oregon and drop the stolen catalytic converters at these known drop locations in Stockton and Placer County," they said. The stolen property was also reportedly sold at these locations.

"The task force also learned that several suspects connected to the criminal theft ring were arrested for catalytic converter thefts and were bailed out of jail by other suspects associated with this theft ring," police said. "Once bailed out, they immediately went back to committing thefts."

The investigation is ongoing.

Catalytic converter theft claims were up 175% among State Farm customers in California from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, compared with the same period in the previous year, a report from the insurance company showed. More than 6,400 catalytic converters were stolen in the state just from State Farm customers — and a claim filed with the insurance company — in 12 months.

What makes a catalytic converter valuable? The metals it's made of, including platinum, palladium and rhodium. State Farm said the part can be worth several hundreds to several thousands of dollars. Some thieves sell the part for scrap metal. And a catalytic converter takes a matter of minutes — and sometimes less than that — to steal.

To avoid thefts, experts recommend parking your car inside a garage or at least in a well-lit area. You can also install an alarm system, point a security camera at your vehicle or engrave your VIN on your car's catalytic converter. Companies also make cages and plates that cost about $150 to $500 that can be installed over the part.

(c)2021 SFGate, San Francisco

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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