Police in the Portland, Oregon suburb of Beaverton have arrested a man they say led a catalytic converter trafficking ring that moved more than 44,000 of the stolen devices since the beginning of 2021.
Police say that Brennan Patrick Doyle's operation trafficked stolen converters in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Texas and New York. Doyle is one of 14 people facing indictments so far in an operation that police had been monitoring since March. Doyle alone was hit with 72 charges that include money laundering, aggravated theft and racketeering.
The 44,000 converters had an estimated street value exceeding $22 million, according to the Associated Press:
The crime ring shipped boxes of converters to the East Coast and internationally, [Beaverton Police spokesman Matt] Henderson said. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people may have been involved in the operation, he added, but declined to share more details because the investigation is ongoing.
When police searched Doyle's waterfront home on Lake Oswego and seven other properties, they found 3,000 catalytic converters, jewelry, a high-end car and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. “The defendants in this case were living a nice life,” said Henderson at a press conference.
Nationwide, converter theft insurance claims skyrocketed 1,215% between 2019 and 2021, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Catalytic converters reduce toxic vehicle emissions and have been mandatory equipment on U.S. cars since 1975. They're prized because they contain valuable metals such as palladium, rhodium and platinum, giving a typical converter a value of around $800 when the metals are extracted.
Best of all from a thief's perspective, they're low-hanging fruit -- vulnerably located on the vehicle's underside between the engine and the muffler. “The people that are removing them from vehicles are so adept at doing so, that it’s almost like a pit crew at a NASCAR race,” Henderson told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “I mean, they can get these things off in seconds.” That's usually accomplished with a battery-powered reciprocating saw.
Lacking vehicle identification numbers, the devices aren't traceable. Some people have taken to defending their catalytic converters by installing metal cages around them, which might cost $500 to $750. On the other hand, depending on the model and damage done to other parts, replacing a catalytic converter could cost upwards of $2,500 to $3,000.
According to Progressive Insurance, some thieves favor older catalytic converters because they contain more metal. However, other thieves prefer newer ones, which tend to have more pristine and thus more easily-salvaged metal. Since converters in hybrid vehicles tend to get less use, their metals are usually in the best shape.
That makes older hybrids attractive to catalytic converter thieves of all tastes. In 2021, the Highway Loss Data Institute found that Toyota Prius cars manufactured between 2004 and 2009 had a particularly high theft claim frequency.
Since they make for easier work, thieves really like high-clearance vehicles. Due to their high numbers and high clearance, Ford F-Series pickup trucks have been the top target of all.