Increase reported in thefts of pricey catalytic converters

Video from Access Medical Equipment on Country Lakes Drive in Lee County shows two people get out of an SUV, put on gloves, and get to work stealing the catalytic converters off three trucks Sunday, July 25. (Photo from surveillance video provided by Crime Stoppers)

The search is on for two people who stole some pricey catalytic converters from a Lee County business, costing the company $15,000 in repairs.

The stolen converters sell for hundreds of dollars and likely end up for sale online because there are a lot of regulations in place at reputable scrap metal places.

If you know what you’re doing, you can saw the parts off under trucks quickly and easily. Three trucks at Access Medical Equipment, a division of Lee Health, were hit Sunday morning.

Video from the business shows two people get out of an SUV, put on gloves, and get to work stealing the catalytic converters off those trucks.

“Seeing as how we don’t know who these individuals are, at this point, they got away with it. And that’s a pretty profitable business for a crook. So until they get caught, there’s definitely the likelihood that they’re going to hit another business,” said Trish Routte, coordinator of Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers.

Robert Weber, owner of Garden Street Iron & Metal, said these converters can go for up to or even over a thousand dollars because of the valuable metals inside. Not just any scrapyard will take them, though.

“The restrictions are you have to have the driver’s license, can’t pay in cash, thumbprint, have to mail them a check,” Weber explained.

He was part of the Florida Recyclers Association in 2012 when they passed statewide legislation to curb these types of thefts. However, people are finding ways around it.

An ad on Craigslist claimed the poster would buy converters for $222 in cash.

The owners of the stolen parts get stuck with footing the bill.

Lee Health said the theft cost $15,000 in repairs to the trucks, and it isn’t only businesses being hit.

Kathie Fann had the converter stolen off her RV while it was parked in storage. “It was $1,344,” to repair the damage, she said.

“We had a trip planned to leave Monday, this past Monday, and my husband went over there and when he started it, he thought a bomb went off because it was so loud, and so he quickly turned it off, and then he realized it was the catalytic converter.”

To give you another example of how valuable these converters are, Weber said he received 2,500 vehicles from last year’s fire at an airport lost. When he sold the converters, it brought in well over a million dollars.

Some tips: If you have trucks, keep a good security and surveillance system in place, and have good lighting.

Tracking down these thieves is hard because the parts don’t have serial numbers, so Crime Stoppers is hoping someone who sees this story will know something. If you do, give them a call at 800-780-TIPS. You could get a cash reward.

Crime Stoppers said the suspects are male and they were in a blue-in-color SUV, which is missing its front grill, has dark-tinted windows, aftermarket rims and a sticker on the bottom left corner of its rear window.

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