One family in Sacramento is allegedly responsible for selling $38 million worth of stolen catalytic converters, and along with 18 other associates in a nationwide theft ring, they were arrested Wednesday in one of a series of raids.
Catalytic converter thefts have been rampant not only in the Bay Area but in many parts of the country in recent years — as thieves have learned that there's a large and lucrative market for the easily sawed-off car parts, mainly for the precious metals in their cores.
Federal investigators say that a company called DG Auto, operating out of multiple locations in New Jersey, was the central-processing firm for a nationwide network of thieves and middlemen, doing the "de-canning" required to extract and pulverize the metals, which they then resold to a metal refinery for a profit. According to a release from the Department of Justice today, DG Auto made $545 million in revenue from their scheme.
"Amidst a rise in catalytic converter thefts across the country, the Justice Department has today carried out an operation arresting 21 defendants and executing 32 search warrants in a nationwide takedown of a multimillion-dollar catalytic converter theft network,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement. "We will continue to work alongside our state and local partners to disrupt criminal conspiracies like this one that target the American people."
The scale of the operation seems immense, and three defendants arrested in Sacramento were apparently running a fencing operation out of their home that took in $38 million from DG Auto. They are 31-year-old Tou Sue Vang, 27-year-old Andrew Vang, and 51-year-old Monica Moua. The range of geography from which the Vangs sourced catalytic converters, via thieves on the street, isn't clear from the release, but federal authorities offered thanks for cooperation to the Livermore Police Department, the Davis and Auburn police departments, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and Sacramento Police Department, as well as the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
A large operation also appears to have been operating out of Northern Oklahoma, where eight of the defendants were arrested. And U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson for the Northern District of Oklahoma said in a statement, "In Tulsa alone, more than 2,000 catalytic converters were stolen in the past year."
In California, around 19,000 catalytic converters were stolen across the state in 2021, or approximately 1,600 per month, investigators say.
The investigation relied in part on the IRS Criminal Investigations division, and the division's chief, Jim Lee, says, "Just like the precious metal inside every catalytic converter, there’s a money trail at the core of every criminal scheme."
Lee adds, "Our IRS-CI special agents and partners are incredibly well-versed at unraveling financial trails, and this case is not unique. There are real victims here – friends, neighbors, and businesses – and our hope is that today’s arrests will deter similar criminal activity."
"The success of this national takedown highlights the importance and necessity of dynamic law enforcement partnerships that we foster at DHS every single day," said Deputy Secretary John K. Tien of the Department of Homeland Security. "This calculated, cooperative whole-of-government approach across multiple states illustrates our commitment to protecting the homeland from those who seek to profit from sophisticated schemes."
The theft ring here is much larger in scale, it sounds like, than one that was busted last December in San Jose, which resulted in 15 arrests; and the Fremont recycling firm, Arrow Recovery, that was busted by Fremont police over the summer.
Photo via the Fremont Police Department