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.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Philadelphia.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Philadelphia stories

No stories could be found

Philadelphiapostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Philadelphia.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more