Catalytic converter thefts in SWLA

Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 10:32 PM CST
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - More and more local motorists have become victims of theft.

Since June 1, there have been reports of 74 cases of stolen catalytic converters, and that number continues to rise.

”In 40 years, I’ve never seen what we’re seeing now in the last couple of months,” Meads Automotive Owner John Wells said. “People are going into their house, into their grocery stores, and they come out and they start their vehicle and it sounds like a tank. And then they find out that their converter part, this centerpiece right here, has been cut off with a SAWZALL in just about all instances in a parking lot.”

But what makes this part so appealing to thieves?

Catalytic converters are full of precious metals: platinum, palladium, and rhodium.

Mead’s Automotive has found itself as the latest hotspot.

“We had one individual pulled up in a malibu with no license plate, and in 15 minutes, he had removed five converters out from underneath the cars parked,” Wells said.

But that was just his first hit.

“We had another situation where at 2 a.m. in the morning, with a torrential rainfall they came in from the railroad tracks, waited through the canal behind us, no shirts on, laid in the water with their flashlights, and cut three of them off in one night,” Wells said.

Over at LaGrange High School, bandits struck again.

“Watched the game, enjoyed ourselves, came back to our vehicle after 9 o’clock and proceeded to crank our vehicle up and just loud, loud, loud,” Brent Babineaux said. “I thought something was wrong with the engine. We turned it off and checked underneath, and two portions of our exhaust was missing. It had been caught off and removed. Determined it was the catalytic converter on both sides.”

A theft like this leaves the victim with a hefty price tag for repairs.

“We took it to our mechanic in Sulphur, brought it over there, and got the estimate. For our specific vehicle, it was going to be almost $4,600 to have it replaced,” Babineaux said.

Wells is only hoping that the people buying the catalytic converters are following Louisiana’s laws.

“Now, you’ve got this segment of population that’s not working or looking for easy cash day, and they’re taking advantage of honest hardworking people,” Wells said.

Over at Tops Auto Recycling, the Converter Appraiser Mark Holtzman said he has heard what he calls “rumors” circulating on Facebook about the junkyard operations.

“We’re actually the most legit converter recycler in the area. We’ve got a webcam that takes a picture of material that comes in, I.D. scanner, and a signature pad,” Holtzman said. “And I use a software system that I can’t go out and buy. I had to find it and modify it to fit my needs, so that I would be in compliance with the law.”

Holtzman said legit sales of catalytic converters from damaged cars can be a lifesaver for someone down on their luck.

”What Facebook doesn’t show is the lady that bought a car from a dealership in Lake Charles and the engine blew up on her three days later and she’s already lost her money there’s nothing they can do to help her she comes in and sold the converter to me and got three times as much for the converter as she did when she brought it to the scrapyard in Lake Charles,” Holtzman said.

The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office said Tops Auto Recycling always works with investigators and will even reach out to them if they notice something suspicious.

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