By Rick Palsgrove
Six members of a gang suspected of stealing catalytic converters from cars and box trucks have been indicted on 85 felony counts.
According to Groveport Police Detective Josh Gilbert, the five men and one woman ranging in ages from around 30 to 45, allegedly stole and scrapped 1,172 catalytic converters in Franklin (including Groveport), Fairfield, Delaware, Muskingum, and Morrow counties. Thirty-three catalytic converters were recovered during search warrants.
“They hit our area pretty hard,” said Gilbert. “Mainly in our warehouse districts where they targeted vehicles and box trucks.”
Gilbert said catalytic converters, which control emissions and pollution in vehicles, are valuable because they contain three precious metals. He said thieves can got to a scrap yard and get $300 to $600 per catalytic converter from a car and $700 to $1,500 from a box truck. He said it is estimated the suspects received $431,868 in cash for the stolen catalytic converters. The thefts inflicted financial pain on the victims, causing them to pay $1,300 to $3,000 to repair their vehicles. Overall, when figuring in repairs and insurance costs, Gilbert conservatively estimated the cost to society for these thefts is $1.7 million.
Gilbert said Groveport Police officers noted a pattern in the catalytic converter thefts in the city and were able to predict when the thefts would next occur. He said last September Groveport Police spotted the suspects and took them into custody near Commerce Center Drive and Rohr Road.
“We used intelligence and technology,” said Gilbert in the police’s methods to catch the suspects, including monitoring and reviewing cell phone data, Facebook, and GPS. He said 15 search warrants were issued.
“The suspects used Apple Air Tag to track potential vehicles to hit,” said Gilbert. “It was a sophisticated approach.”
The police investigation took nine months and Groveport Police worked with several other law enforcement agencies including the Franklin County Economics Crime Prosecution Division.
Gilbert added, “This was also a combined effort and teamwork between our Detective Bureau and our patrol officers to catch the suspects.”
Gilbert said three of the six suspects were taken into custody this month and police are on the hunt for the remaining three suspects.
“It is an extensive case,” said Gilbert, who said additional indictments are expectged as it is thought the suspects were allegedly involved in other thefts in Groveport.
“This is one of the longest and one of the most costly in the amount of thefts to society I have ever worked on,” said Gilbert. “Even if you are not a direct victim, everyone is affected by crimes like this because it affects things like insurance rates that everyone pays for.”