Multi-agency ‘Operation Urban Mining’ sting results in arrests after catalytic converter thefts

Catalytic converters. Photo: Utah Attorney General's Office

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, May 18, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — The Utah Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday announced results of a multi-jurisdiction sting operation mounted in response to a sharp increase in theft and the illegal sale of catalytic converters throughout the state.

As a result of the operation:

  • Three people have been arrested
  • 124 catalytic converters were confiscated as evidence
  • 13 legitimate scrap metal dealers were audited
  • 13 criminal violations were issued along with six warnings over the last three weeks

The investigation was a coordinated effort between the Department of Public Safety State Bureau/Investigations, the Sandy City Police Department, Unified Police Department, West Jordan Police Department, and West Valley City Police Department.

“The shocking increase in these crimes is having a big impact on people in Utah, and as law enforcement, it’s our job to confront it,” said Nate Mutter, Utah Attorney General’s Office Investigations, in a provided statement.

“Catalytic converters are essential and are expensive to replace. It is satisfying to work with the agencies in our joint task force so we can focus on these kinds of crimes, and we’re pleased the different agencies work together so well.

“Moving forward, we anticipate working with the Legislature and the scrap metal businesses in our state to more effectively pursue convictions for catalytic converter theft.”

Nationwide, catalytic converter theft has risen exponentially due to the market value of the precious metals inside, the statement says, adding the valuable metals rhodium, palladium, and platinum are seeking unprecedented prices on the black market.

Estimates nationwide indicate the increase in thefts may be as high as 6000%, the statement says; in Utah, catalytic converter theft from automobiles has risen 595% since 2018. Costs to replace a catalytic converter after it has been stolen from a vehicle average $1,800.

“As the prices of platinum, palladium, rhodium and gold skyrocket, theft of catalytic converters has risen ten-fold in just a couple of years,” said West Jordan Police Chief Ken Wallentine.

“Though local scrap metal dealers will pay a small sum — usually the amount to buy a day or two supply of illegal drugs — the scrap metal dealer can profit much more from reclaiming the precious metals.  A victim will pay between $1,000 to $2,000 out-of-pocket to replace the stolen device.”

Wallentine said he encourages car owners to engrave the vehicle identification number (VIN) onto the catalytic converter.

“This may cause a thief to think twice before cutting,” he said.

Sandy City Police Sgt. Jacob Knight said his department’s effort to protect those with cars will be ongoing.

“This type of crime is far too common and negatively affects the citizens in our communities,” he said. “The Sandy City Police Department will continue its efforts to deter these crimes as well as continue to arrest and prosecute suspects involved in this criminal activity.”

Catalytic converters. Photo: Utah Attorney General’s Office

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