US busts $545m catalytic converter theft ring

A national law enforcement operation has dismantled a criminal network focused on stealing catalytic converters from vehicles and selling them to a metal refinery.

The operation has resulted in 21 arrests, with defendants from five states charged with a range of offences in connection with the scam, according to the Department of Justice, which accuses the gang of making "hundreds of millions of dollars" from the activity.

Catalytic converters are an exhaust device that reduces the toxic gas and pollutants from a vehicle's internal combustion engine. Because they use precious metals palladium, platinum, and rhodium in their core – some more valuable per ounce than gold – they are a magnet for thieves as they can be stolen in a couple of minutes and can be worth up to $1,000 each.

Unfortunately the devices often lack unique identifiers like serial numbers, VIN information, or other identification features to help trace their lawful owners.

The operation involved 32 search warrants and the seizure of millions of dollars in assets, including homes, bank accounts, cash, and luxury vehicles, says the DoJ, which has filed two separate lawsuits seeking to recover $545 million in illicit proceeds from the criminal network by unravelling the money trail behind it.

"With California’s higher emission standards, our community has become a hot bed for catalytic converter theft," said US Attorney Phillip Talbert for the Eastern District of California.

"Last year approximately 1,600 catalytic converters were reportedly stolen in California each month, and California accounts for 37 per cent of all catalytic converter theft claims nationwide," he added.

According to court documents filed in California, brothers Tou Sue Vang (31), Andrew Vang (27) and Monica Moua (51) – all of Sacramento, California – allegedly operated an unlicensed business from their personal residence where they bought stolen catalytic converters from local thieves and shipped them to a business called DG Auto Parts in New Jersey for processing. The Vang family allegedly sold over $38m in stolen catalytic converters to DG Auto.

Defendants Navin Khanna, aka Lovin Khanna (39), Tinu Khanna, aka Gagan Khanna (35), Daniel Dolan (44), Chi Mo, aka David Mo (37), Wright Louis Mosley (50) and Ishu Lakra (24) – all of New Jersey - operated DG Auto in multiple locations across the state, notes the DoJ.

"They knowingly purchased stolen catalytic converters and, through a 'de-canning' process, extracted the precious metal powders from the catalytic core. DG Auto sold the precious metal powders it processed from California and elsewhere to a metal refinery for over $545m," according to the department.

A second suit in Oklahoma covers 13 defendants, who are also accused of buying stolen catalytic converters from thieves on the street, then re-selling them to DG Auto.

Defendant Tyler James Curtis (26) of Wagoner, Oklahoma, received over $13m in wired funds from DG Auto for the shipment of catalytic converters and received over $500,000 from Capital Cores for catalytic converters, says the complaint. Defendant Adam Sharkey (26) of West Islip, New York, meanwhile received over $45m from DG Auto, while Martynas Macerauskas (28) of Leila Lake, Texas, got $6m.

The remaining defendants are Navin Khanna (39) of Holmdel, New Jersey; Robert Gary Sharkey (57) of Babylon, New York; Benjamin Robert Mansour (24) of Bixby, Oklahoma; Reiss Nicole Biby (24) of Wagoner, Oklahoma; Kristina McKay Macerauskas (21) of Leila Lake, Texas; Parker Star Weavel (25) of Tahlequah, Oklahoma; Shane Allen Minnick (26) of Haskell, Oklahoma; Ryan David LaRue (29) of Broken Bow, Oklahoma; Brian Pate Thomas (25) of Choteau, Oklahoma; and Michael Anthony Rhoden (26) of Keifer, Oklahoma.

Image from Ahanix1989 at English Wikipedia

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