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Huge catalytic converter bust leads to 21 arrests; spans nine states, including MN

Homeland Security Investigations announced a major bust this week of a multi-million-dollar catalytic converter scheme.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Homeland Security Investigations announced a major catalytic converter bust this week, with law enforcement activity spanning at least nine states — including Minnesota — and resulting in the arrest of 21 people.

None of the 21 defendants lived in Minnesota. However, according to court records, the complex, multi-million-dollar scheme involved at least one "low-level intermediate buyer" from Minnesota and illustrates how prevalent these crimes have become over the past few years.

Criminal indictments in Oklahoma and California explain how the scheme worked. First, street "cutters" stole the catalytic converters from cars and sold them to the low-level buyers, who in turn dealt them to "high-level intermediate buyers." The high-level buyers then sold them to a "core buyer," DG Auto in New Jersey, who broke down the precious metals and traded them to a refinery for more than $500 million. This week, the FBI and other agencies raided one of the ringleader's homes in New Jersey, one of many search warrants carried out across the country.

According to St. Paul Homeland Security Investigations, police served eight federal search warrants in Minnesota on Wednesday. In total, at least 20 Minnesota law enforcement agencies helped with the investigation.

That includes the St. Paul Police Department.

"We appreciate the opportunity to work with our federal partners to hold people responsible for the rash of catalytic converter thefts in our city. We now know that these thefts were part of a larger criminal enterprise that spanned the entire United States," Interim Police Chief Jeremy Ellison said in a statement. "Thefts of these auto parts not only cost our residents monetarily, but eroded their sense of security in our city."

Sgt. Mike Ernster of SPPD said that as far back as 2014, the city of St. Paul reported only 45 catalytic converter thefts. That number slowly increased before accelerating at the start of the pandemic, with more than 1,000 reports each in 2020 and 2021, and now more than 2,000 so far in 2022.

"The draw is the money. The monetary draw of taking them and getting rid of them," Ernster said. "Thefts of catalytic converters have been rampant, not only in St. Paul but the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota. It is a big problem."

Ernster said that SPPD has recently started holding clinics, so that people can mark their catalytic converters in case they're stolen. 

"We hope this criminal investigation really puts a damper on catalytic converters being stolen in St. Paul," Ernster said. "We hope the people that were buying them, to recycle them, are out of the game now."

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