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An LAPD detective etches vehicle identification numbers onto a car’s catalytic converter as a preventative measure against theft on April 6, 2022, in Los Angeles.

An LAPD detective etches vehicle identification numbers onto a car’s catalytic converter as a preventative measure against theft on April 6, 2022, in Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) — A national catalytic converter theft ring that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue was taken down in an unprecedented federal investigation, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

The operation included arrests, searches and seizures in California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.

Twenty-one defendants were charged in two indictments that were unsealed Wednesday in U.S. district courts for the Eastern District of California and the Northern District of Oklahoma, federal officials said. Investigators also served 32 search warrants and seized millions of dollars in assets including homes, bank accounts, cash and vehicles.

The operation is the first national takedown of a catalytic converter theft ring coordinated by the Justice Department, said Lauren Horwood, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California.

In the California case, brothers Tou Sue Vang, 31, and Andrew Vang, 27, are accused of operating an unlicensed business with 51-year-old Monica Moua from their home in Sacramento.

The trio bought stolen catalytic converters from local thieves and shipped them to DG Auto Parts in New Jersey for processing, authorities said.

“The Vang family allegedly sold over $38 million in stolen catalytic converters to DG Auto,” the Justice Department said.

A 40-count indictment alleging conspiracy to transport stolen catalytic converters, conspiracy to commit money laundering and other charges names the Vang brothers, Moua and six other defendants.

Navin Khanna, also known as Lovin Khanna, 39; Tinu Khanna, also known as Gagan Khanna, 35; Daniel Dolan, 44; Chi Mo, also known as David Mo, 37; Wright Louis Mosley, 50; and Ishu Lakra, 24, all of New Jersey, operated DG Auto branches in New Jersey, authorities said.

Beginning around October 2019 and continuing until last month, according to the indictment, stolen catalytic converters were shipped from Sacramento to New Jersey, and payments were sent via wire transfer from DG Auto to the Vangs’ business, including several in excess of $100,000.

The suspects were being recorded by confidential informants.

Catalytic converters are a part of a vehicle’s exhaust system that reduces the amount of pollutants and toxic gases discharged by the internal combustion engine. The devices contain precious metals such as palladium, platinum and rhodium in their cores and are often targeted by thieves because of their high value, lack of identifying markings and relative ease of theft.

Federal authorities estimate that DG Auto sold precious metal powders it processed from the catalytic converters to a metal refinery for more than $545 million.

In the Oklahoma case, 13 defendants accused of buying stolen catalytic converters from street thieves and reselling them to DG Auto are charged with 40 counts, including conspiracy to receive stolen catalytic converters, conspiracy to commit money laundering and other related charges.

The defendants include Adam Sharkey, 26; Robert Gary Sharkey, 57; Tyler James Curtis, 26; Benjamin Robert Mansour, 24; Reiss Nicole Biby, 24; Martynas Macerauskas, 28; Kristina McKay Macerauskas, 21; Parker Star Weavel, 25; Shane Allen Minnick, 26; Ryan David LaRue, 29; Brian Pate Thomas, 25; and Michael Anthony Rhoden, 26. The Sharkeys are residents of New York state; Curtis, Mansour, Biby, Weavel, Minnick, LaRue, Thomas and Rhoden live in Oklahoma, and the Macerauskases are Texas residents.

The indictment also names Navin Khana as a defendant.

From 2020 to this year, authorities allege, Curtis received more than $13 million over wire transfers from DG Auto and more than $500,000 from Capital Cores Corp., a New York business operated by Adam Sharkey.

Sharkey received more than $45 million and Martynas Macerauskas received more than $6 million, all from DG Auto, according to the Justice Department.

“In all these incidents, most of the catalytic converters sold to DG Auto were stolen, and DG Auto knew or should have known that when they paid for them,” federal authorities said.

California’s higher emissions standards have made the state “a hot bed” for catalytic converter theft, said U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert of the Eastern District of California.

“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,” Talbert said.

U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson of the Northern District of Oklahoma said Tulsa alone saw more than 2,000 such thefts in the last year.

“Organized criminal activity, including the large-scale theft of catalytic converters, is costly to victims and too often places citizens and law enforcement in danger,” Johnson said.

The operation involved law enforcement personnel from the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service and dozens of state and local police departments and agencies.

©2022 Los Angeles Times.

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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