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Feds just raided a catalytic converter theft ring: Here are the riskiest SF neighborhoods for car owners

A mechanic works under a lifted vehicle, fixing or inspecting a component.
Luis Benitez installs one of four new catalytic converters onto a Chevrolet Silverado at Johnny Franklin’s Muffler in San Rafael, California, on July 11, 2022. Thefts of catalytic converters are surging across the nation as thieves seek out precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium that fill the inside of the antipollution car part. Thefts have nearly tripled since the beginning of the pandemic with over 50,000 in 2021 compared to under 20,000 in 2020. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images | Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you were the victim of a recent catalytic converter theft, there’s a chance you’ll feel just a little better today. On Wednesday, Nov. 2, officials with the United States Justice Department announced they had arrested 21 individuals in five states—including two men and one woman in Sacramento—for their role in a national criminal network of thieves, dealers and processors of catalytic converters.

Locally, the Sacramento trio of Tou Sue Vang, Andrew Vang and Monica Moua are accused of buying stolen catalytic converters from local theives and then selling their inventory to a larger group in New Jersey that operated under the name DG Auto. The Vangs and Moua allegedly sold more than $38 million in stolen catalytic converters to their East Coast connection. In turn, DG Auto is said to have extracted the precious metal powders found inside the catalytic converters’ cores and sold that material to a metal refinery for over $545 million.

More than 800 San Franciscans had their catalytic converters stolen in 2021 and stories of brazen thefts—as well as the lengths locals have been going to protect their vehicles—have regularly appeared in Bay Area newspapers and broadcasts.

According to U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert for the Eastern District of California, the local surge in catalytic converter thefts can be attributed in part to our state’s environmental protections.

“With California’s higher emission standards, our community has become a hot bed for catalytic converter theft,” Talbert said. “Last year approximately 1,600 catalytic converters were reportedly stolen in California each month, and California accounts for 37% of all catalytic converter theft claims nationwide. I am proud to announce that we have indicted nine people who are at the core of catalytic theft in our community and nationwide.”

And the citywide problem is getting worse—The Standard found through public records requests that catalytic converter thefts have increased in seven out of 10 SF police precincts.

Catalytic converters are an important part of a car’s exhaust system. One must be in place in order for your vehicle to pass a smog check (unless your car was made before 1975). The converters use rare metals—including rhodium, palladium and platinum—as catalysts to neutralize harmful emissions. These rare metals can be extracted and sold, as DG Auto is accused of doing.