Twenty-one people in five states have been arrested, charged with participating in a nationwide catalyst theft network, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The arrests have taken place in California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada and North Carolina, according to the Justice Department. Some suspects have already been charged with involvement in the conspiracy, prosecutors said.

Ten different federal, state and local law enforcement agencies participated in the investigation and carried out 32 search warrants. Law enforcement officials seized millions of dollars in assets from the suspects, including homes, bank accounts, cash and luxury vehicles.

The Justice Department said brothers Tou Sue Vang and Andrew Vang, along with Monica Moua, allegedly sold more than $ 38 million of stolen catalytic converters to DG Auto in New Jersey. They ran an unlicensed company in their home in Sacramento, California, where they bought stolen catalysts from local thieves, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors say operators of DG Auto, a catalytic converter, knowingly bought stolen catalytic converters, mined precious metal powders, and sold them to metal refineries for over $ 545 million.

FILE – undated photo of catalysts.

CBS News

Other defendants in the case include Tyler James Curtis, who received more than $ 13 million in lead funding from DG Auto to ship the catalysts, as well as another $ 500,000 from another company for catalysts, prosecutors said.

Defendant Adam G. Sharkey has received more than $ 45 million in transfers from DG Auto, while defendant Martynas Macerauskas has received more than $ 6 million in payments from DG Auto, the Department of Justice said.

The federal grand jury in California filed a 40-fold indictment, charging nine of the defendants with conspiracy to transport stolen catalysts, conspiracy to launder money, and other related allegations.

“With California’s higher emissions standards, our community has become a hot spot for catalyst theft,” US Attorney Phillip A. Talbert of the Eastern District of California said in a statement.

Talbert said about 1,600 catalytic converters were stolen in California every month last year. He said California is responsible for 37% of all catalyst theft claims nationwide.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma federal grand jury has indicted 40 counts against 13 defendants in the case.

US Attorney Clint Johnson of North Oklahoma County said in a statement that 2,000 catalysts were stolen in Tulsa, Oklahoma last year.

“Organized crime, including large-scale catalyst theft, is costly to victims and too often puts citizens and law enforcement at risk,” Johnson said.

Catalyst theft is on the rise in the United States, the Justice Department reported in a press release. The auto part reduces toxic gases and pollutants from the vehicle’s internal combustion engine to safe emission. They are usually stolen because they contain precious metals such as palladium, platinum and rhodium.

Some of these metals are more valuable than gold and their value continues to rise.

In the black market, catalytic converters can cost over $ 1,000 each, the Justice Department said. They’re also easy to steal – a thief can pick them up from the car in less than a minute.

They often lack serial numbers, so they are difficult to trace when removed from the car.

“So the theft of catalytic converters is becoming more and more popular because of their value, the relative ease of theft and the lack of identification markings,” said the Justice Department.

On Friday, in an unrelated case, a suspect was arrested in Chicago for allegedly attempting to steal a catalyst, CBS Chicago reports.

A muffler store owner in Denver said his store has manufactured and installed as many as 1,000 covers that are welded to the cars to protect the catalytic converters. CBS Colorado reported last week.

Many auto shops offer similar protection. Farmers Insurance recommends that you familiarize yourself with these protections against the Left. Company also recommends etching the license plate number in the catalytic converter so it can be traced if found. He also suggests parking in a well-lit area and making sure your car’s alarm is turned on.

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