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Easy, lucrative catalytic converter thefts vex Placer victims, law enforcement

Two cuts with portable hacksaw can have part off in matter of minutes
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Placer County’s wave of catalytic-converter thefts has hit motorists in the pocketbook. And at least one law-enforcement arm has acted to root out businesses buying the valuable and easily removed car parts. In Roseville, an investigation of several scrap metal dealers in the region resulted in the arrest last week of three buyers and sellers in Rio Linda, Roseville and North Highlands. But an Auburn auto repair shop owner who regularly sees the damage caused by catalytic converter thieves in his community said that he continues to be concerned about the level of crime taking place and law-enforcement’s ability to stop it. Pointing to the exhaust pipe on a 1998 Toyota Tacoma raised on his hydraulic hoist at Strictly Toy-ondas in Auburn, shop owner John Martin said Thursday that thieves simply use a battery-powered saw after crawling underneath, make two cuts and remove the catalytic converter. With the muffler system damaged and the catalytic converter stolen, some repairs will cost in the neighborhood of $2,500, Martin said. The converter – which reduces toxic fumes from car engines and contains small amounts of platinum, rhodium and palladium – will fetch the thief perhaps $30 or $40 through an unscrupulous scrap merchant, Martin said. A recent customer recounted how he went into a Target store in Sacramento and returned to his parked truck 20 minutes later to find the catalytic converter gone. “The solution is to find the guys who are buying,” Martin said. Martin said that welding the converter onto the frame – once considered a good security measure – won’t work. “They will just use a power hacksaw and cut the pipes,” Martin said. The Roseville Press Tribune, a sister publication to the Auburn Journal, reported this past week that one of the people arrested – Michele Walden, 45, of Roseville – allegedly advertised on Craigslist that she would buy scrap metal, catalytic converters and other types of metal. She was charged with receiving stolen property. Roseville police also arrested an employee of Performance Metal Recycling in Rio Linda. Jenipher Maggard was charged with violating California’s Business and Profession’s Code, Roseville Police Sgt. Cal Walstad told the Press Tribune. At Auburn Recycling and Scrap Metal on Sacramento Street, co-owner Anne Bochenski said that the business, which recently changed its name from Auburn Community Recycling, has strict procedures that require the seller to be identified. They include fingerprinting, photographing and ID’ing the customer with a phone number and driver’s license. As a result, Bochenski said possible thieves looking to sell stolen scrap go elsewhere. “We actually don’t get many,” Bochenski said. “We do get people calling. One person said they had 10 or 12. We try to get as much information on the phone as possible and find people hang up on us.” Bochenski said that rumors are that there are unscrupulous buyers in South Placer and Nevada County. For Auburn Recycling, the business is locally owned and doesn’t want to hurt its neighbors, she said. In Roseville, police have acted after a rash of reports – 65 stolen catalytic converters since early November – mostly on Toyota trucks and SUVs. Rocklin’s Eric Basset had the catalytic converter stolen from his 1998 Toyota pickup in late November from a parking lot near his workplace in Roseville. He told reporter Toby Lewis that he now shares one car with his wife or bikes to work. “I can’t drive my truck because I don’t have the $500 to replace the catalytic converter,” Bassett said. “With Christmas and everything, I can’t afford it.” The Roseville Press Tribune contributed to this report.