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Thieves Target Catalytic Converters in Highland Park for Precious Metals

The precious metals inside the auto part present an easy target for opportunistic thieves.

It happened in broad daylight.

Neighbors and motorists didn't think twice as they passed the two mechanics working underneath Rebecca LaFond's 2005 Toyota Sequoia on Avenue 54 early Saturday morning. 

At the time, none realized that they weren't making repair to the vehicle, but were actually stealing its catalytic converter for the valuable precious metals like palladium, platinum and rhodium found inside.

"They got away with it in broad daylight because they found a way to pop my hood, hook their car up to mine with jumper cables so it looked like they were doing a repair, and went under my car and cut out my catalytic converter with a saw," LaFond said. "My neighbor, and everyone else that drives down Ave 54, didn't stop them, because she thought they were fixing my car."

LaFond realized something was wrong with the vehicle after she loaded up her children for a trip to the zoo.

"I turned the key in the ignition, and it sounded like a Harley Davidson," LaFond said.

Catalytic Converter theft is nothing new in California. In fact, it had become so prominent by 2010 that the state legislature passed SB627, which requires scrap dealers to create a paper trail whenever they purchase a catalytic converter.

Though the metals found in the part, designed to detoxify emissions,  are comparable to gold in value, they exist in such trace amounts that a catalytic converter will usually only fetch $30 to $60 from scrap dealers.

However, Detective Larry Burcher of Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division said vehicles like LaFond's Sequoia and other Toyota SUVs present irresistibly easy targets.

"They go after the vehicles because they sit so high off the ground, it's very easy to get underneath," Burcher said.

Burcher said catalytic converter theft waxes and wanes, largely due to the willingness of scrap dealers to take the risk of purchasing the contraband.

"You can't just steal a catalytic converter and take it to scrap dealer and get money right away, like you used to," he said.

Those words come as cold comfort to LaFond, who was set back $500 by the theft. Her insurance deductible covered the rest of the $2,300 replacement.

Given the bulk of other, higher priority crimes being handled by Northeast Division, the likelihood of the thieves being brought to justice is low.

"It didn't seem like the crime was high on their priority list, even though we had a potential witness," LaFond said. "The report seemed like more a formality for insurance purposes."

highland park resident January 28, 2013 at 09:26 PM
My catalytic converter was also stolen in highland park that sucks and the police ain't doing nothing
Issachar Queen January 28, 2013 at 09:49 PM
My car was stolen in highland park but they didn't get far since they didn't even know how to turn it on. They ripped out the stereo and forgot it but they did steal my sons school bag with his school books and they took our Bibles. They also took a cooler and over 500 family pictures and hours of video. The police did nothing. What good was the books and our pictures. I hope at least they use the Bible.
Nimby pimp January 29, 2013 at 01:32 AM
My good neighbors caught a young male Hispanic entering cars on our block last night. Two neighbors tailed the suspect on foot for many blocks while calling 911. The LAPD responded with nearly a dozen squad cars and nabbed the culprit. Keep your eyes peeled. Lots of thieves out at night.
clarisa walker March 28, 2013 at 12:38 AM
2day i was at the water company on grandriver came out 2 my guy DTS 2007 some cut the cadillac convert out how sad cuz i was afraid 2 tell cuz its only been 2 months since he bought it
Ryan Furuya May 31, 2013 at 07:28 PM
This just happened to me, too, on Wednesday, May 29 at the Lincoln Heights/Cypress Park Gold Line Park & Ride. I came back to my truck after trying to save gas and money, start the truck and it sounded like a rat rod with open headers. Peek underneath, and sure enough, catalytic converters were straight sawed off! Unfortunately, the thieves know people are gone for the better part of the day at work, have the cover of other vehicles next to it, and no security. Two shops quoted me $3000 for my truck claiming there are no aftermarket parts available and that they have to order it from the dealer. I think I will be welding a plate to the bottom of my truck to protect these darn things. Thank God for insurance, but I stil have to pay the deductible. My days of taking the Metro are history, too.

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