The FBI announced Wednesday that it has broken up a nationwide catalytic converter theft ring that amassed staggering assets of more than half a billion dollars.
A total of 21 people were arrested and charged in the US-wide bust, according to an FBI statement.
“They made hundreds of millions of dollars… on the backs of thousands of innocent car owners,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.
Catalytic converters reduce the toxic gases and pollutants emitted by vehicle exhaust systems.
They contain many precious metals (platinum, palladium and rhodium) whose value has exploded in recent years. The car parts are easy to steal and can be sold on the black market for more than $1,000 each.
In California alone, 1,600 catalytic converters were stolen each month last year, according to Phillip Talbert, a federal prosecutor in that state.
Three of the people charged, all from California, are accused of selling more than $38 million in stolen catalytic converters as part of the ring.