SHARON – When Phil Cooper arrived Monday morning at his used-car lot, he found a disaster.
Over the weekend, someone had stolen what he thought had been seven catalytic converters from vehicles on his lot at the bend along the Shenango Valley Freeway downtown. But the final tally turned out to be even worse.
When Cooper checked all of the vehicles on the lot of Phil’s Auto Sales, he found that 15 devices — which control vehicle emissions and pollution —had been taken.
Replacing the stolen catalytic converters could cost about $400 each, Cooper said. Fixing the damage could mean a total investment of about $6,000, which will cut into his profits when he sells the vehicles.
The thefts from Phil’s Auto Sales comes about two months after police arrested two people accused of stealing catalytic converters in four counties, including incidents in Grove City.
Catalytic converters would seem to be unlikely theft targets with little value for sale as parts. But there’s more to them, said Sharon police Capt. Travis Martwinski.
Martwinski said the devices contain precious metals — chiefly platinum and palladium — that make them desirable to thieves. Platinum was valued about $1,210 per ounce and palladium at almost $2,400 per ounce, as of Tuesday, according to Goldline.com.
Both precious metals have increased in value by about 10% in the last month.
The amount of precious metals in an individual catalytic converter varies, but the Ecotrade Group website estimates that 5 grams (about 0.17 ounces) of platinum is typical, which would be worth about $200.
With a portable saw, thieves could remove a catalytic converter in about 10 minutes, Martwinski said.
Martwinski said surveillance video from the business shows two suspects around 3 a.m. Sunday walking through the lot and cutting off catalytic converters from trucks and cars.
“We’ve confirmed they were stolen,” Martwinski said. “We’re checking different locations of where they may have been sold.”
Martwinski does not know if this theft is related to a Grove City investigation that covered crimes in four counties. Grove City police filed charges against two people believed to be part of a Michigan-based crime ring in multiple thefts of catalytic converters from vehicles.
In the Grove City case, the catalytic converters were stolen out of two cars in a parking lot. In the Sharon case, they were stolen from a car lot. Martwinski said most of the thefts of catalytic converters he has seen has been from places like car lots.
“It’s not just one here and one there,” he said. “It’s usually businesses and car lots where they can get several in a night.”
Martwinski said for now, police are checking with scrapyards to see if anyone has tried to sell converters.
Grove City police reported that the four-county catalytic converter theft ring may have been associated with a Michigan-based crime ring that might have been able to process the devices’ precious metals.
Police said they were able to apprehend suspects in that case after identifying vehicles on surveillance video and finding saws used to cut devices from inside the victims’ vehicles.
That clue isn’t available to investigators on the Phil’s Auto Sales thefts. Cooper said surveillance video on his property showed the thieves arriving and leaving on foot.
But Martwinski said police do have some resources.
“We’re doing some follow up reaching out to scrap yards,” he said. “Eventually, I’m sure they’ll be taken to a scrap yard. Hopefully, we’ll be able to put two and two together and figure out who’s responsible, or we may identify them off the video.”