BOSTON (AP) — Seven men who authorities said worked with the speed and efficiency of a “NASCAR pit crew” to steal catalytic converters from nearly 500 vehicles in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, resulting in losses estimated at $2 million, were arrested Wednesday, federal prosecutors said.
The men frequently targeted as many as 10 vehicles per night, and on one night stole from 26 vehicles, Rachael Rollins, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said at a news conference.
The suspects worked like “a NASCAR pit crew” using “skill and speed” to jack up vehicles and cut out the catalytic converters, Rollins said.
“Catalytic converter theft has become a nationwide problem across multitudes of states, local and federal jurisdictions,” she said.
Five of the men are from Springfield, Massachusetts, one is from Holyoke, and the alleged ringleader, Rafael Davila, 35, is from Agawam, authorities said.
The defendants face a variety of charges including interstate transportation of stolen property and money laundering conspiracy.
Davila’s federal public defender said in an email he had no comment.
Catalytic converters are a part of a vehicle’s exhaust system that help control toxic emissions. Thefts of the exhaust emission control devices have jumped nationwide as prices for the precious metals they contain have skyrocketed.
The devices contain metals such as platinum that are more valuble than gold and when cut from a vehicle’s undercarriage can fetch more than $1,000 on the black market, federal authorities said.
One of those metals, rhodium, sells for $8,200 an ounce, Rollins said.
The thefts cause headaches for families and businesses that have to pay to have them replaced, she said. ConsumerAffairs.com says they can cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars to replace, not including labor.
Authorities suspect the crew was responsible for at least 471 catalytic converter thefts this year and last.
Dozens of local police departments in Massachusetts and New Hampshire were involved in the investigation, dubbed Operation Cut and Run, and some noticed that at in many instances, a maroon Acura was involved in the thefts. That car was eventually traced to Davila, prosecutors said.
Federal authorities allege that one of the defendants, Jose Torres, 37, sold up to $80,000 worth of stolen catalytic converters per week to scrap dealers, who are also facing charges. An email seeking comment was left with Torres’ attorney.
Some of the defendants are also alleged to have stolen bank cash machines and committed burglaries at two New Hampshire jewelry stores.