Catalytic converter theft ring is busted, feds say

A nationwide catalytic converter theft ring that generated tons of of tens of millions of {dollars} in income was taken down in an unprecedented federal investigation, the Division of Justice mentioned Wednesday.

The operation included arrests, searches and seizures in California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.

Twenty-one defendants had been charged in two indictments that had been unsealed Wednesday in U.S. district courts for the Japanese District of California and the Northern District of Oklahoma, federal officers mentioned. Investigators additionally served 32 search warrants and seized tens of millions of {dollars} in belongings together with houses, financial institution accounts, money and autos.

The operation is the primary nationwide takedown of a catalytic converter theft ring coordinated by the Justice Division, mentioned Lauren Horwood, a spokesperson for the U.S. lawyer’s workplace for the Japanese District of California.

Within the California case, brothers Tou Sue Vang, 31, and Andrew Vang, 27, are accused of working an unlicensed enterprise with 51-year-old Monica Moua from their house in Sacramento.

The trio purchased stolen catalytic converters from native thieves and shipped them to DG Auto Components in New Jersey for processing, authorities mentioned.

“The Vang family allegedly sold over $38 million in stolen catalytic converters to DG Auto,” the Justice Division mentioned.

A 40-count indictment alleging conspiracy to move stolen catalytic converters, conspiracy to commit cash laundering and different prices names the Vang brothers, Moua and 6 different defendants.

Navin Khanna, also called Lovin Khanna, 39; Tinu Khanna, also called Gagan Khanna, 35; Daniel Dolan, 44; Chi Mo, also called David Mo, 37; Wright Louis Mosley, 50; and Ishu Lakra, 24, all of New Jersey, operated DG Auto branches in New Jersey, authorities mentioned.

Starting round October 2019 and persevering with till final month, in line with the indictment, stolen catalytic converters had been shipped from Sacramento to New Jersey, and funds had been despatched by way of wire switch from DG Auto to the Vangs’ enterprise, together with a number of in extra of $100,000.

The suspects had been being recorded by confidential informants.

Catalytic converters are part of a automobile’s exhaust system that reduces the quantity of pollution and poisonous gases discharged by the interior combustion engine. The gadgets include valuable metals comparable to palladium, platinum and rhodium of their cores and are sometimes focused by thieves due to their excessive worth, lack of figuring out markings and relative ease of theft.

Federal authorities estimate that DG Auto bought valuable steel powders it processed from the catalytic converters to a steel refinery for greater than $545 million.

Within the Oklahoma case, 13 defendants accused of shopping for stolen catalytic converters from road thieves and reselling them to DG Auto are charged with 40 counts, together with conspiracy to obtain stolen catalytic converters, conspiracy to commit cash laundering and different associated prices.

The defendants embody Adam Sharkey, 26; Robert Gary Sharkey, 57; Tyler James Curtis, 26; Benjamin Robert Mansour, 24; Reiss Nicole Biby, 24; Martynas Macerauskas, 28; Kristina McKay Macerauskas, 21; Parker Star Weavel, 25; Shane Allen Minnick, 26; Ryan David LaRue, 29; Brian Pate Thomas, 25; and Michael Anthony Rhoden, 26. The Sharkeys are residents of New York state; Curtis, Mansour, Biby, Weavel, Minnick, LaRue, Thomas and Rhoden dwell in Oklahoma, and the Macerauskases are Texas residents.

The indictment additionally names Navin Khana as a defendant.

From 2020 to this 12 months, authorities allege, Curtis obtained greater than $13 million over wire transfers from DG Auto and greater than $500,000 from Capital Cores Corp., a New York enterprise operated by Adam Sharkey.

Sharkey obtained greater than $45 million and Martynas Macerauskas obtained greater than $6 million, all from DG Auto, in line with the Justice Division.

“In all these incidents, most of the catalytic converters sold to DG Auto were stolen, and DG Auto knew or should have known that when they paid for them,” federal authorities mentioned.

California’s increased emissions requirements have made the state “a hot bed” for catalytic converter theft, mentioned U.S. Atty. Phillip Talbert of the Japanese District of California.

“Last year approximately 1,600 catalytic converters were reportedly stolen in California each month, and California accounts for 37% of all catalytic converter theft claims nationwide,” Talbert mentioned.

U.S. Atty. Clint Johnson of the Northern District of Oklahoma mentioned Tulsa alone noticed greater than 2,000 such thefts within the final 12 months.

“Organized criminal activity, including the large-scale theft of catalytic converters, is costly to victims and too often places citizens and law enforcement in danger,” Johnson mentioned.

The operation concerned legislation enforcement personnel from the FBI, Homeland Safety Investigations, the Inside Income Service and dozens of state and native police departments and companies.