As you may have already heard, catalytic converter thefts are on the rise for a myriad of reasons. Crime is up in general, the economy is in rough shape, they’re pretty easy to steal, difficult to track, and the price of certain metals found inside the emission-limiting devices (e.g. platinum, rhodium, and palladium) absolutely skyrocketed after global shutdowns stifled production. The issue has actually gotten so bad that even relatively small cities are reporting organized theft rings getting busted with piles of catalytic converts on hand.
In Oregon, an investigation by the Beaverton Police Department (BPD) has resulted in a bust of a group believed to have stolen an estimated 44,000 catalytic converters along the West Coast. Starting in January of 2021, the ring is believed to have flipped the pilfered units for a whopping $22 million (USD).
While the news of the bust expanded over the weekend, via local outlets like OregonLive and KPTV Fox 12, the investigation itself dates back to March when BPD caught wind of a local fencing operation focused on catalytic converters and managed to pull over 32-year-old Tanner Lee Hellbusch — whose vehicle was loaded up with at least 100 freshly cut units worth an estimated $88,000 (which sounds a little steep to me).
Over the next five months, police arrested 13 additional suspects believed to be part of the operation and uncovered at least eight locations allegedly used by the group to store the goods. Some were even part of an LLC existing as a front for the scheme. All told, the department said it has managed to seize over 3,000 stolen catalytic converters, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, some jewelry, and a “high-end” car nobody seems to know much about. Sadly, while it’s nice to learn that cat thefts will probably be down on the West Coast for a time, none of this is likely to help the people directly affected by the crime.
Asset forfeiture rules mean the cops basically get to do whatever they want with the seized goods. The money is as good as spent already and, with no good way of determining who owns the stolen emission devices, the department will likely auction them off in due time — though it said that it would like to find some way to get the funds back into the community.
A Washington County grand jury indicted 32-year-old Brennan Patrick Doyle (the presumed ring leader), Hellbusch, and 12 other people on charges of racketeering, aggravated theft, and money laundering on July 29th. The catalytic converters were said to have been shipped all across the country almost as fast as they could be removed, making it extremely difficult for the police to determine just how many had been taken overall. However, law enforcement assumed the group being flush with cash was indicative of their having done a lot of business ahead of the July busts and remains concerned that there are more members unaccounted for.
“The defendants in this case were living a nice life,” said Officer Matt Henderson, a spokesperson for Beaverton Police, at a press conference ahead of the weekend. “This business was turning millions of dollars worth of profit in catalytic converters … You need an organization and multiple people to do that.”
As this remains an open investigation, the Beaverton Police Department said it could not comment further.
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