GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Police have busted a ring of catalytic converter thefts that cost drivers around Kent County thousands of dollars.
Court documents obtained by News 8 reveal about $4,700 worth of catalytic converters were stolen and sold to a single scrap metal yard.
Police say the ring involved a group of five suspects, including Christy Johnson, Samantha Chapman, Jessie Godfrey and Debra Orr. The alleged crimes appear to have taken places over several months last year, court filings show.
Prosecutors say the group worked together to steal the pieces off cars and sell them to Westside Metal Recycling on Hall Street SW. When News 8 approached the business Tuesday morning, a representative said he hadn’t heard of the case, adding that the recycler buys catalytic converters all the time.
The suspects have all been charged with conducting criminal enterprise, which can carry up to 20 years in prison. They have also been charged with violating the Scrap Metal Regulatory Act, which can result in a five-year prison sentence.
The criminal complaint is backed by a December 2022 affidavit from a Kentwood Police officer. Kentwood police did not respond to a request for comment from News 8.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office was also involved in the investigation. Sgt. Eric Brunner told News 8 the punishment can be steeper when several suspects are involved in a catalytic converter theft ring together.
“When there’s more than a group of two people to go out and steal those catalytic converters and use those proceeds to further their criminal enterprise and conduct criminal activity, that’s when we see those more serious criminal charges come into play,” Brunner said.
Catalytic converter thefts surged during the pandemic. The sheriff’s office said just 12 were stolen in the department’s service area in 2020. That number skyrocketed to 173 thefts in 2021.
Brunner said 214 catalytic converters were stolen in 2022. Fewer are being taken this year, with 98 so far.
“In the past month, we’ve only had six thefts,” Brunner said. “The rate of theft has slowed down this year compared to last year.”
Despite the decrease in thefts this year, Brunner said the crime continues to affect new victims. Another problem: It can be difficult to prevent.
“There are some options like people marking their catalytic converters, sometimes people will put spray paint or something on it,” Brunner said. “It still doesn’t prevent a person cutting off a catalytic converter and taking it.”
Deputies have found a pattern in where cars are targeted.
“Large volume of cars,” Brunner explained. “We have park-and-rides along the highway, business parking lots at night where there’s a concentration of cars. We’ve had things happen in the overnight hours mostly so it’s under the cover of darkness where there’s easy access to vehicles.”
Brunner said the stolen property can be a huge headache for victims. They often must pay at least $1,000 for a replacement and deal with insurance.
“This is important to our community,” Brunner said. “It’s a quality of life issue.”
If you have any information on the alleged ring or a different catalytic converter theft, contact your local police department or Silent Observer.