San Jose police recover 1,000 catalytic converters, make 15 arrests

A total of 15 suspects have been arrested and more than 1,000 catalytic converters have been recovered during a six-month, multi-agency investigation, San Jose police announced on Monday.

Dubbed "Operation Cat Scratch Thiever," police also said that they confiscated $50,000 in cash, four handguns, and an illegal assault rifle, among other things.

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San Jose police announced the arrest of 15 people for allegedly stealing catalytic converters. Dec. 13, 2021

All the suspects are from San Jose and they range in age from 81 to 22. 

They are: Joe Chen, William Collier, Noe Antonio De La O Ramirez, Robert Frank, David Leaf, Robert Lee, Jorge Omar Flores-Meza, Noah Muchera, Waiyaki Muchera, Casandra Ochoa, Mario Zarate Sanchez, Godofredo Lopez Serrano, Jeffrey Smith, Alton Walker and Lacey Westgate. 

MORE: Man confronts catalytic converter thieves in Fremont, gets shot at

Police did not state whether these suspects were working in concert together, or alone. 

The Santa Clara County District Attorney has charged the suspects with crimes ranging from grand theft to receiving stolen property and from assault with a deadly weapon to possession of illegal weapons. 


Detectives also shut down three businesses where owners often bought cut catalytic converters with no questions asked. Those businesses are being referred to the San José City Attorney’s Office, police said. 

The operation ended on Nov. 16, which began when police across the region saw a rise in catalytic converter thefts in 2020. 

A catalytic converter is an exhaust emission control device that reduces a vehicle’s release of toxic gases and pollutants. The device is typically installed midstream between a car’s engine and exhaust pipe and is generally located on the underside of the car. 

Catalytic converters contain precious metals that can be extracted and sold and are therefore targeted by thieves.

MORE: Catalytic converter thefts continue to vex Bay Area motorists; police advise deterrents

A typical theft involves lifting a parked car with a jack and cutting out the converter with a cordless saw. The theft takes minutes but causes thousands of dollars' worth of damage to victim vehicles. Stolen catalytic converters are often sold on the black market to illegal fencing operations for hundreds of dollars.

Since the start of the pandemic, the city of San José has experienced an increase in catalytic converter thefts, police said.


San Jose police announced the arrest of 15 people for allegedly stealing catalytic converters. Dec. 13, 2021 

Police data shows 84 catalytic converters were stolen in 2019, 724 were stolen in 2020 and 1,087 were stolen in the first 10 months of 2021. 

Many of these thefts have become increasingly brazen and suspects are often armed with guns, police said. 

Suspects have shot victims and witnesses who have interrupted the thefts and in San José a catalytic converter theft has been linked to at least one homicide, police said. 

The operation was conducted by members of the San José Police Department, including patrol, the financial crimes unit, the street crimes unit, the covert response unit, the crime analysis unit, and the burglary prevention unit. 

Police also received help from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Automotive Repair, and Copart Inc.