Jun 28, 2023 - News

Philly tow company snared in catalytic converter theft ring

A brand new catalytic converter.

Bucks County authorities busted a major catalytic converter theft ring. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Bucks County prosecutors are accusing a Philadelphia tow truck company of operating a multimillion-dollar catalytic converter theft ring that targeted the region.

Driving the news: Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub announced charges on Tuesday against 11 people and Philly-based TDI Towing, described as the "main buyer" of thousands of catalytic converters stolen throughout Delaware Valley.

Why it matters: Catalytic converters — which help filter out harmful emissions from a vehicle's exhaust — go for big money on the resale market, Weintraub said during a news conference yesterday, estimating the ring's exploits over the last three years at $8.2 million.

  • TDI Towing purchased on average about 175 catalytic converters a week, or more than 27,000 over the three-year span, paying roughly $300 for each, Weintraub said.
  • Thefts are a major issue in Philly. The city logged nearly 6,000 stolen catalytic converters in 2022, and already more than 1,300 through this year, per a police spokesperson.

How it works: Thieves, known as "cutters," targeted vehicles from Bucks to Montgomery counties for rhodium, platinum and palladium contained in catalytic converters.

  • An ounce of the precious metals sells for between $1,000-$7,000, Weintraub said, driven up by supply-chain shortages during the pandemic.

Zoom in: Bucks County authorities said some of the thefts linked to the ring turned violent. One of the accused is charged with aggravated assault for nearly running over a detective while eluding authorities, Weintraub said.

  • Others face multiple felonies that include running corrupt organizations, theft and criminal conspiracy.
  • The towing company and associates acted "through a pattern of racketeering," per the criminal complaint. Some have already waived preliminary hearings.

What they're saying: Weintraub said it's the first time that the Bucks County DA has ever criminally charged a corporation, crediting investigators who "worked up the chain" to get the alleged main players.

  • "Our goal is to put them out of business forever," Weintraub said Tuesday.

The other side: TDI Towing did not return Axios' request for comment.

The intrigue: The investigation took nearly a year and involved cooperation from dozens of law enforcement agencies,

  • Authorities sifted through thousands of hours of surveillance to identify suspects and license plates of vehicles to track the stolen goods.

What we're watching: A House bill sponsored by Philly Democrat Rep. MaryLouise Isaacson that's under consideration could make the illicit resale of catalytic converters tougher by tightening identification requirements for scrap materials.


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