Catalytic converter theft ring stole $2,000,000 worth with 'speed of a NASCAR pit crew,' feds say

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7 individuals charged for causing damages amounting to nearly $2 million in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 2022 & 2023

BOSTON |  U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts
Recently, seven members of an organized theft crew were apprehended and charged in federal court in Boston in connection with a series of thefts across the region. These thefts involved over 470 stolen catalytic converters, automatic teller machines, and jewelry stores. Over 70 police departments from across New England contributed to this investigation.

The defendants, who have been charged with a slew of crimes, including conspiracy to transport stolen property in interstate commerce, interstate transportation of stolen property, conspiracy to commit bank theft, bank theft, and money laundering conspiracy, are slated to appear in federal court in Boston at 1:30 p.m. today. The following are the defendants:

  1. Rafael "Robin Hood" Davila, 35, of Feeding Hills, Mass.;
  2. Jose "Goldy" Torres, 37, of Springfield, Mass.;
  3. Nicolas Davila, 25, of Springfield, Mass.;
  4. Carlos "Charlito" Fonseca, 26, of Springfield, Mass.;
  5. Zachary Marshall, 26, of Holyoke, Mass.;
  6. Santo Feliberty, 34, of Springfield, Mass.; and
  7. Alexander "Dirty" Oyola, 37, of Springfield, Mass.

EXPLOSIVE INCREASE

Catalytic Converter Theft Claims: 2018 - 2021

2018
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2019
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2020
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2021
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What Are Catalytic Converters?

Catalytic converters are an essential part of a vehicle's exhaust system that reduces the harmful gases and pollutants emitted by a vehicle's engine into safe emissions. They are mandatory for all combustion engine vehicles in the US. Due to the valuable precious metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium used in their core, catalytic converters are highly sought after by thieves. These precious metals are more valuable than gold, and their black-market prices have been increasing in recent years, with a single converter worth over $1,000.

Thieves usually target residential neighborhoods, parking lots, and other locations to steal high-value converters. Once stolen, the removal of a converter from a vehicle's undercarriage causes damage that renders the car both inoperable and legally non-compliant with EPA regulations until replaced.

Stolen with the 'speed of a NASCAR Crew"

As per the charging documents, numerous catalytic converter thefts were reported across Massachusetts and New Hampshire where a maroon Acura was identified as a vehicle involved in the incidents. The thefts were carried out by at least two individuals dressed in dark clothing who targeted commercial and residential vehicles.

These skilled suspects could remove the catalytic converter from a vehicle in less than a minute. They used battery-powered power tools such as a reciprocating saw for swift cutting. In some cases, the suspects had to lift the vehicles using a jack to access the catalytic converters. They quickly removed the converter, stored it in the back of the maroon Acura and moved on to the next target.

According to prosecutors, the maroon Acura was found to be owned by Rafael Davila, who is believed to be the leader of the theft crew and participated in each theft. It is alleged that Davila was involved in catalytic converter thefts and burglaries as a full-time activity, committing thefts for several hours each night, multiple nights per week. Furthermore, based on cell phone data, it is alleged that Davila maintained detailed records of targeted locations, the number of catalytic converters stolen, the make and model of the stolen converters, and when they were dropped off.

According to allegations, Rafael Davila operated with a group of individuals including his brother Nicolas Davila, Fonseca, Feliberty, and Marshall to carry out the thefts. Rafael Davila was purportedly responsible for planning and transportation to each targeted theft. He used his own vehicle, determined price values for stolen converters, and purchased required materials. Rafael Davila was alleged to have regularly purchased large quantities of bi-metal saw blades specifically designed for use with a reciprocating power saw, as well as cut-resistant gloves that appear identical to those worn by the thieves based on surveillance footage.

Based on surveillance footage, communications, and location monitoring data obtained from the defendants’ cell phones and Rafael Davila's vehicle, authorities were able to identify the defendants' involvement in stealing catalytic converters from at least 471 vehicles across Massachusetts and New Hampshire during 2022 and 2023. However, it is believed that a considerable number of additional thefts may have gone undetected or unreported to law enforcement. The defendants allegedly targeted more than 10 vehicles in one night on several occasions, with one instance involving the theft of catalytic converters from 26 vehicles.

The theft crew allegedly sold the stolen catalytic converters to Torres, who then sold them to scrap dealers in the Northeast, including those charged with interstate transportation of stolen property and money laundering.

Torres reportedly transacted between $30,000 to $80,000 worth of stolen catalytic converters to these entities per week. Using digital pricing applications and communication with the core buyers, Torres provided prices to Davila and his crew based on the make and model of the vehicle and the code on the converter, allowing them to target the most valuable converters.

The group allegedly stole from ATMs of federally insured banks and committed burglaries of two jewelry stores, resulting in over $137,000 worth of stolen goods and approximately $10,000 in damage. The charges against them carry sentences of up to five to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and fines up to $500,000 or twice the value of the proceeds. A federal district court judge will determine their sentences based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and applicable statutes.

About Premiere Services

CAT-Converter Express is a national service that handles theft and vandalism claims for all private passenger vehicles and the majority of commercial vehicles. Claims handlers can send an assignment to Premiere Services via CCCOne®, warm transfer phone call, email (claims@premiereservices.com), or through Premiere’s secure online quick claim portal found at https://premiereservices.com/quick-claim-form/. There are no setup fees, additional costs, or IT integration needed.

Premiere Services has been exclusively serving the insurance claims industry for 30 years. The company was started after Mark Puente experienced a theft loss, and after the claim was finished, he felt “there had to be a better way”. That has been the guiding principle for the company since 1991.

For more information or to set up a demo, please contact Premiere Services at 800-479-9945 or via email at demo@premiereservices.com.

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