Precious metals causing catalytic converter thefts to skyrocket

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Thieves are targeting your vehicle for its catalytic converter because the device contains pieces of precious metal more valuable than gold.

It is a crime that targets everyone.

For example, Lifeline to Success is an organization that helps ex-criminals learn job skills to find employment.

On Saturday, Executive Director DeAndre Brown and his staff were getting ready to attend an anti-crime rally when his organization became a victim of one.

Thieves stole the catalytic converters off of their vans.

“When you got into the vehicles and cranked them up, you immediately knew what happened because it happened before,” Brown said.

Brown is talking about the sound of the vehicle’s engine that any mechanic would quickly tell you that the vehicle’s catalytic converter, an anti-pollution device, has been stolen.

“I was so upset,” Brown said because it cost his organization thousands of dollars in repairs.

Converter thieves stole more than just the device from Deborah Stewart.

They shot and killed her brother, Gerald DeWayne Stewart, when he confronted them at his mechanic shop on March 6. Stewart was a father of three daughters.

“I just can’t wrap my brains around it,” Deborah Stewart said. “A car part for a life. A car part for a life.”

Through an open records request, FOX13 discovered the number of catalytic converter thefts in Memphis has skyrocketed.

According to Memphis Police, it had investigated only 54 cases of catalytic converter thefts from July 2020 to September 2020.

During those same months for 2021, the number of catalytic converter thefts investigated by MPD was 323.

“It happens during the day,” said Sgt. James Goines. “It happens at night. And for the most part, it is a quick crime. It takes only a couple of minutes to cut it off.”

What’s driving this crime is the money from the resale of converters for platinum, palladium, and rhodium, the precious metals inside.

An ounce of Rhodium costs 50% more than the same amount of gold.

“Part of the problem is a lot of buyers are coming from out of state,” Sgt. Goines said. “They are putting posts on social media, on resale pages, saying buying converters today for cash with just a phone number.”

“By the time we trace this phone number, we don’t know where they are at. They are gone in a couple of days,” he said.

The most common vehicles getting hit are people with fleet vehicles and vehicles left unattended over the weekend.

While the thieves outrun the police, your vehicle sits parked in a repair shop.

If you are lucky, mechanics have a replacement converter in stock.

The repair bill can be a couple of hundred dollars to more than a thousand.

Sgt. Goines said you can deter this crime by getting a vin etched into your converter this would help catch crooks. Also, make sue you vehicle has high temperature neon paint.

We asked mechanic Steve Tenerio of Advance Muffler Service if someone could still drive a vehicle without a catalytic converter?

“Some vehicles you can,” he said. “You really should not go much long distance because of the carbon monoxide making it into the vehicles. Usually, after a 30-minute drive, you can blackout.”

Law enforcement lobbied State Representative and Shelby County Republican John Gillespie to introduce a bill to better regulate the sales of the auto part.

“It is affecting everyone,” Gillespie said.

His bill increases the fines against those caught selling them illegally.

The bill passed and was signed by the governor.

“It is a step in the right direction. What this bill does mainly gives law enforcement the ability to go after the bad guys,” Gillespie said.

The crooks are costing you money and time with deadly consequences.

“He lost his life over a catalytic converter,” Deborah Stewart said.

Gillespie said he would like to see other states in the Mid-South pass laws toughening the penalty for catalytic converter thefts so thieves can’t escape law enforcement and prosecution by crossing state lines.