By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport Police and other law enforcement agencies recently uncovered an organized theft ring whose criminal activities resulted in $19 million in financial losses to citizens.
These financial losses included property damage, insurance costs, and thefts of items.
According to Groveport Police Detective Josh Gilbert, the three month police investigation that sifted through 16 months of data and nine search warrants discovered the theft ring which allegedly stole up to 13,000 catalytic converters from vehicles. Other items seized by police from the theft ring included zero turn lawn mowers, trailers, bank accounts, investment accounts, flat bed tow trucks, entire vehicles, Bobcat loader, and 50 weapons, of which 13 were stolen from many jurisdictions including one from Groveport.
Gilbert said police are seeking indictments for six members of the theft ring including charges of operating under corrupt activities, receiving stolen property, money laundering, and scrap yard law violations, as well as other pending charges.
“They (the theft ring) made a lot of money doing this, but now they have a price to pay,” said Gilbert.
The theft ring, which Gilbert said operated out of the south end of Columbus, targeted Groveport and the surrounding area. The thieves would hit warehouse and school parking lots as well as other areas.
“We focused on the source where the stolen catalytic converters were being taken and sold for scrap,” said Gilbert of the investigation.
He said the theft ring established itself as a business LLC (limited liability corporation) in order to sell the stolen property in scrap yards.
“The main suspects received about $1.5 million in the last 14 months,” said Gilbert.
He said the theft ring organizers allegedly used people with drug issues to steal the items.
“They (the theft ring organizers) would pay these people – who sought money to feed their drug issues – about $200 to $500 and then the suspects would turn around and have the LLC sell the items to a scrap yard and get $300 to $1,500. The main suspects would have the drug users take the risks. They fed off people with drug habits.”
In addition to the estimated 13,000 stolen catalytic converters (which are valued for the precious metals they contain) ran through scrap yards for money, the theft ring also allegedly stole 300 entire vehicles by using flat bed tow trucks. Gilbert said these vehicles were then damaged through the use of a Bobcat loader and then run through a scrap yard to be crushed for money.
“The scrap yard would crush the cars down like a pop can,” said Gilbert. “They (the suspects) would get $400 to $900 per vehicle and it is estimated the theft ring took in $250,000 doing this.”
Gilbert said, by establishing a business LLC, the theft ring was able to skirt around scrap yard laws.
Law enforcement officials want to see the state revise existing laws that would place catalytic converters into a special category, like was done with copper when copper thefts got out of control.
“This would put additional requirements in place and put a burden of proof on those taking catalytic converters to the scrap yard for money,” said Gilbert.
Joining the Groveport Police in the investigation were the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Reynoldsburg Police, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.