A rash of catalytic converter thefts that have been plaguing states across the United States has reportedly made its way to Alabama.

Recently, federal, state and local law enforcement officials in several states formed a partnership to execute a coordinated takedown of a national network of thieves, dealers and processors for conspiracies involving stolen catalytic converters being sold to a metal refinery for tens of millions of dollars.

Catalytic converters are a component of an automotive vehicle's exhaust system that reduces toxic gas and pollutants from a vehicle's internal combustion engine into safe emissions. Catalytic converters use precious metals in their center, or "core," and are regularly targeted for theft due to the high value of these metals, especially the precious metals palladium, platinum and rhodium. Some of these precious metals are more valuable per ounce than gold, and their value has been increasing in recent years. The black-market price for catalytic converters can be above $1,000 each, depending on the type of vehicle and what state it is from.

Additionally, catalytic converters often lack unique serial numbers, VIN information or other distinctive identification features, making them difficult to trace to their lawful owner. Thus, the theft of catalytic converters has become increasingly popular because of their value, relative ease to steal — they can be stolen in less than a minute — and their lack of identifying markings.

"With California's higher emission standards, our community has become a hotbed for catalytic converter theft," said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert for the Eastern District of California. "Last year, approximately 1,600 catalytic converters were reportedly stolen in California each month, and California accounts for 37% of all catalytic converter theft claims nationwide. I am proud to announce that we have indicted nine people who are at the core of catalytic theft in our community and nationwide."

In Mobile, police arrested two suspects in December for catalytic converter theft. The two Georgia men will be the first to be prosecuted under Alabama's new law addressing these crimes. The law requires more paperwork and proof of ownership of vehicles before selling catalytic converters.

Last week, a Tuscaloosa man was also arrested for allegedly breaking the new law. As a metal recycler, police said the man didn't follow procedures outlined in the statutes. Investigators claim they found 150 catalytic converters in his possession.

Captain Kip Hart, commander of the Tuscaloosa Police Department's Criminal Investigations Division, said the department had to thoroughly research and understand the new law before acting.

"We're just going to keep pressing because until the actual converter thefts cease, there's always going to be someone to take it in and recycle it," Hart said.

Hart explained residences, businesses, car lots and churches with church vans have been targets of thefts. Police suggest having video surveillance if you are unable to park your vehicle in a garage.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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