A nationwide network of catalytic converter thefts that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue has been busted in an unprecedented federal investigation, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
The operation included arrests, searches and seizures in California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.
Twenty-one defendants were charged in two indictments that were released Wednesday in U.S. District Courts in the Eastern District of California and the Northern District of Oklahoma, federal officials said. Investigators also served 32 search warrants and seized millions of dollars in assets, including homes, bank accounts, cash and vehicles.
The operation is the first nationwide takedown of a network of catalytic converter thefts coordinated by the Justice Department, said Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California.
In the California case, brothers Tou Sue Vang, 31, and Andrew Vang, 27, are accused of operating an unlicensed business with Monica Moua, 51, from their Sacramento home.
The trio purchased stolen catalytic converters from local thieves and shipped them to DG Auto Parts in New Jersey for processing, authorities said.
“The Vang family allegedly sold over $38 million worth of stolen catalytic converters to DG Auto,” the Justice Department said.
A 40-count indictment alleging conspiracy to transport stolen catalytic converters, conspiracy to commit money laundering and other counts names brothers Vang, Moua and six other defendants.
Navin Khanna, also known as Lovin Khanna, 39; Tinu Khanna, also known as Gagan Khanna, 35; Daniel Dolan, 44; Chi Mo, also known as David Mo, 37; Wright Louis Mosley, 50; and Ishu Lakra, 24, all of New Jersey, operated DG Auto branches in New Jersey, authorities said.
From around October 2019 until last month, according to the indictment, stolen catalytic converters were shipped from Sacramento to New Jersey, and payments were sent by wire transfer from DG Auto to Vang businesses, including several over $100,000.
The suspects were recorded by confidential informants.
Catalytic converters are part of a vehicle’s exhaust system that reduce the amount of pollutants and toxic gases released by the internal combustion engine. The devices contain precious metals such as palladium, platinum and rhodium in their cores and are often targeted by thieves due to their high value, lack of identifying marks and relative ease of theft.
Federal authorities estimate that DG Auto sold precious metal powders it processed from the catalytic converters to a metals refinery for more than $545 million.
In Oklahoma case, 13 defendants accused of buying stolen catalytic converters from street thieves and reselling them to DG Auto are charged with 40 counts, including conspiracy to receive catalytic converters stolen, conspiracy to launder money and other related charges.
The defendants include Adam Sharkey, 26; Robert Gary Sharkey, 57; Tyler James Curtis, 26; Benjamin Robert Mansour, 24; Reiss Nicole Biby, 24; Martynas Macerauskas, 28; Kristina McKay Macerauskas, 21; Parker Star Weavel, 25; Shane Allen Minnick, 26; RyanDavid LaRue, 29; Brian Pate Thomas, 25; and Michael Anthony Rhoden, 26. The Sharkeys are residents of New York State; Curtis, Mansour, Biby, Weavel, Minnick, LaRue, Thomas, and Rhoden live in Oklahoma, and the Macerauskases are residents of Texas.
The indictment also names Navin Khana as the accused.
From 2020 to this year, authorities say, Curtis has received more than $13 million in wire transfers from DG Auto and more than $500,000 from Capital Cores Corp., a New York-based company operated by Adam Sharkey.
Sharkey received more than $45 million and Martynas Macerauskas received more than $6 million, all from DG Auto, according to the Justice Department.
“In all of these incidents, most of the catalytic converters sold to DG Auto were stolen, and DG Auto knew or should have known when they paid for them,” federal authorities said.
California’s higher emissions standards have made the state “a hot bed” for catalytic converter theft, US Atty said. Phillip Talbert of the Eastern District of California.
“Last year, approximately 1,600 catalytic converters were reported stolen in California each month, and California accounts for 37 percent of all catalytic converter theft claims nationwide,” Talbert said.
American Atty. Clint Johnson of Oklahoma’s Northern District said Tulsa alone has seen more than 2,000 such thefts in the past year.
“Organized criminal activity, including the large-scale theft of catalytic converters, costs victims dearly and too often puts citizens and law enforcement at risk,” Johnson said.
The operation involved members of law enforcement from the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service, and dozens of state and local police departments and agencies.