Target 11: Catalytic converter theft goes out of control in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — Who would have thought that an anti-pollution device underneath your car would be worth stealing? But as we all know now, it is as anyone who’s been a victim of catalytic converter theft.

In fact, Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle has made an alarming discovery: Things have gone from bad to worse.

In Pittsburgh, just 16 converters were reported stolen in 2020. Last year? More than 270 converters were ripped off of car owners and their cars.

After our exclusive report on thieves targeting a valet lot for catalytic converters, Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle is digging deeper into this crime.

Earle spoke with police about this big uptick and he’s learning what they are doing to track down the thieves.

He also examined how the thieves are cashing in with these stolen converters, what vehicles they are targeting and what you can do to protect your vehicle.

From East Liberty to Seven Pprings to Hempfield Township, thieves are targeting catalytic converters, those small devices underneath your car that help control emissions.

“It’s out of control,” said Pittsburgh Police Detective Don Pasquarelli, who’s been tracking and investigating catalytic converter thefts in Pittsburgh.

In 2020, there were only 16 converter thefts, and in 2021, that number jumped to 93, but last year, there were a whopping 272 thefts.

Earle: Were you surprised by the numbers?

Pasquarelli: I was. Sharp increase.

So why are thieves targeting these small metal devices? Target 11 discovered they are after the precious metals deep inside the converter.

Investigators say thieves are targeting converters for the costly precious metals platinum and rhodium.

“Everybody wants the valuable metals inside of this,” said Virgil Richmond, the facilities manager at Michael Brothers Recycling.

Richmond said his company has strict rules about purchasing used catalytic converters. He said the strictly follow state law and only buy from commercial entities.

Every transaction, Richmond said, is documented with a driver’s license and a photograph of the converter.

“If you don’t have that we won’t accept them,” said Richmond.

Investigators said they suspect that stolen catalytic converts re sold to chop shops or on the black market for approximately $200 each.

But Police here have made some progress cutting into the trade, thanks in part to the prevalence of security cameras.

“That’s the van pulling in,” said Rachele Mongiovi, of Mongiovi and Son Plumbing in Kennedy Twp.

Surveillance cameras at Mongiovi and Son Plumbing in Kennedy Twp. captured thieves stealing converters from a truck.

Police put out an alert for that van with Kentucky plates, and the men were busted in State college.

“They arrested the individuals in the van that were still sleeping in the van with sawzall blades and everything in the van,” said Pasquarelli.

“We didn’t get any refund back from it, but it’s still satisfying knowing that the person was caught,” said Mongiovi.

And just last month, police in North Huntingdon Township using surveillance images tracked down three men from Chicago they suspect stole $200,000 worth of converters from auto dealerships in western Pennsylvania.

“These suspects terrorized our neighborhoods and our businesses for months,” said Westmoreland County District Attorney, Nicole Ziccarelli.

According to CarFax, the top targeted vehicle by thieves is the Ford F Series pick up trucks.

They’re easy to slide under.

The Honda Accord and the Jeep Patriot round out the top three.

“We had a customer next door had three stolen,” said Damon Rauso, the owner of Lockhart Tire and Battery on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

Rauso showed Earle how the converter was cut off of one car and he said it’s a costly repair.

“This one the catalytic converter is about 18-hundred,” said Rauso.

But experts told Earle there are some things you can do to protect your converter.

Paint it or etch the vin number on it.

Install an antitheft device or metal protective cage around it.

If those are too pricey, Detective Pasquarelli offered some other tips.

“Block watches, communicate with your neighbors, cameras specifically on your vehicle on your vehicle if you can. The best course of action would be to put your vehicle in a garage,” said Detective Pasquarelli.

Pittsburgh police are taking this uptick very seriously.

In fact, Pittsburgh Police met with law enforcement agencies across the area to compare notes in a coordinated effort to track down the thieves.

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