Sheriff says more thieves swiping catalytic converters

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Shavonne PottsSalisbury Post
Authorities are investigating the theft of catalytic converters from local businesses.
Thieves walked away with more than 25 converters from three automobile dealerships. Such thefts are increasing locally and across the state, law enforcement officials say.
“It’s an easy crime. You drive up and within a few minutes, you’ve made $20 or $30,” Sheriff George Wilhelm said.
The converters are designed to help reduce emissions from exhaust systems.
Arrests have been made in the past, but thieves still target catalytic converters in order to extract the metals for profit.
People continue to steal the converters, Wilhelm said, because scrap contractors still buy it.
Wilhelm was careful to say there is a real market for selling and buying catalytic converters. For instance, a salvage yard owner might have older cars used for scrap and want to sell the converters.
People who legitimately purchase catalytic converters and other valuable scrap are supposed to keep records.
Wilhelm recalled incidents in the past in which scrap-metal dealers or car owners caught thieves trying to sell stolen catalytic converters and even caught them in the process of stealing them.
Earlier this year, Larry Brindle, owner of Brindle’s Used Cars and Parts, caught thieves stealing about 20 of 70 converters from his property. One of the suspects tried to shoot Brindle with his own weapon. Two men were charged in mid-January for the crime.
In February, N.C. Wildlife officials stopped two men with catalytic converters in their vehicle.The easiest of targets are cars and trucks that sit high off the ground. Wilhelm explained that a vehicle that sits off the ground gives would-be thieves room to quickly slide underneath and remove the converters.
The businesses that reported the latest thefts were Halcomb Automotive on West Jake Alexander Boulevard, which had four catalytic converters stolen;
Executive Homes Limited & Auto Sales on Julian Road, where thieves took five converters; and Cloninger Ford-Toyota on South Jake Alexander Boulevard, from which about 25 catalytic converters were stolen.
Executive Homes Limited and Cloninger Ford have been targeted before.
No arrests had been made Monday in the most recent thefts.
Cloninger Ford General Manager Nathan Peele said that within the last eight months before the latest crime, thieves stole three or four converters.
The 20-25 vehicles vandalized Sunday night were from dealership inventory and customer-owned cars, he said.
“I think the economic times that everybody is experiencing is part of it,” Peele said. “The problem is, some honest people are making irrational decisions.”
The dealership has increased security and the lot holding the cars from which thieves stole catalytic converters is surrounded by an electric fence topped with razor wire. Still, thieves have managed to find a way inside.
“We are working with the Salisbury Police and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and other investigators,” Peele said.
Peele called for a community-wide effort to stop the thefts.
“We need to look at people who look suspicious and together work to keep law enforcement informed,” he said.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Salisbury-Rowan Crime Stoppers at 866-639-5245.
Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or spotts@salisburypost.com.

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