Oregon Sees Sizable Stolen Catalytic Converter Bust

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

As you may have already heard, catalytic converter thefts are on the rise for a myriad of reasons. Crime is up in general, the economy is in rough shape, they're pretty easy to steal, difficult to track, and the price of certain metals found inside the emission-limiting devices (e.g. platinum, rhodium, and palladium) absolutely skyrocketed after global shutdowns stifled production. The issue has actually gotten so bad that even relatively small cities are reporting organized theft rings getting busted with piles of catalytic converts on hand.

In Oregon, an investigation by the Beaverton Police Department (BPD) has resulted in a bust of a group believed to have stolen an estimated 44,000 catalytic converters along the West Coast. Starting in January of 2021, the ring is believed to have flipped the pilfered units for a whopping $22 million (USD).

While the news of the bust expanded over the weekend, via local outlets like OregonLive and KPTV Fox 12, the investigation itself dates back to March when BPD caught wind of a local fencing operation focused on catalytic converters and managed to pull over 32-year-old Tanner Lee Hellbusch -- whose vehicle was loaded up with at least 100 freshly cut units worth an estimated $88,000 (which sounds a little steep to me).

Over the next five months, police arrested 13 additional suspects believed to be part of the operation and uncovered at least eight locations allegedly used by the group to store the goods. Some were even part of an LLC existing as a front for the scheme. All told, the department said it has managed to seize over 3,000 stolen catalytic converters, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, some jewelry, and a "high-end" car nobody seems to know much about. Sadly, while it's nice to learn that cat thefts will probably be down on the West Coast for a time, none of this is likely to help the people directly affected by the crime.

Asset forfeiture rules mean the cops basically get to do whatever they want with the seized goods. The money is as good as spent already and, with no good way of determining who owns the stolen emission devices, the department will likely auction them off in due time -- though it said that it would like to find some way to get the funds back into the community.

A Washington County grand jury indicted 32-year-old Brennan Patrick Doyle (the presumed ring leader), Hellbusch, and 12 other people on charges of racketeering, aggravated theft, and money laundering on July 29th. The catalytic converters were said to have been shipped all across the country almost as fast as they could be removed, making it extremely difficult for the police to determine just how many had been taken overall. However, law enforcement assumed the group being flush with cash was indicative of their having done a lot of business ahead of the July busts and remains concerned that there are more members unaccounted for.

“The defendants in this case were living a nice life,” said Officer Matt Henderson, a spokesperson for Beaverton Police, at a press conference ahead of the weekend. “This business was turning millions of dollars worth of profit in catalytic converters ... You need an organization and multiple people to do that.”

As this remains an open investigation, the Beaverton Police Department said it could not comment further.

[Image: fru-fru/Shutterstock]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Aug 16, 2022

    Here's a real horror story: A friend of mine that's a commercial wallpaper installer owned an '09 Tundra, and had his cat stolen while he was working on a job in Dallas. He would normally have driven his work truck (an '03 Silverado with a zillion miles on it, and one engine replacement), but it was out of commission that day.

    At the end of the day when he got in the truck and started it, he noticed the noise, *and* saw smoke and flames. The thief had somehow cut or nicked the fuel line, causing gas to spray out. The truck burned to the ground in just a few minutes.

    He replaced it with a '19 Tundra, and the dealer installed a steel plate attached to the frame rails below the cats, and it's riveted (or maybe security bolts?) to the rails (I only saw it after dark, so I didn't get a really good look). He said the plate cost $750 to install. He says he'll never take the new one to work.

  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Aug 16, 2022

    It's becoming the norm for cats to be moved out of state for sale, and even out of the country. The thieves are looking for the easiest places to get rid of them, as laws tighten down in some places. Here in Texas, catalytic converter theft became a felony last September 1, so the stakes are going up.

    A couple months back, an off-duty Harris County (Houston) sheriff's deputy leaving a grocery store was murdered in the parking lot by a thief that was in the process of stealing the cat from his truck. As far as I know, they're still looking for the suspect, who would be charged with capital murder, and subject to the death penalty.

  • El scotto I look forward to watching MTG and Tommy Tuberville when the UAW comes to their states.
  • El scotto Vehicle company white collar (non-union) engineers design the parts and assembly procedures. The UAW members are instructed on how to install the parts. Engineers are also in charge of quality control. The executives are ulimately responible for the quality of their products.
  • Chris P Bacon I don't care either way, the employees have the right to organize, and I'm never going to buy a VW. But.... It would be interesting if the media (HINT HINT) would be able to provide a detailed look at what (if anything) the VW workers gain by unionizing. There will be dues to pay. How much? I bet the current policies, pay and benefits mirror other auto companies. When all is said and done an the first contract signed, my money is on the UAW to be he only ones who really come out ahead. That leads into my next comment. Once a union is voted onto the property, it is almost impossible to get rid of them. Even if the membership feels the union doesn't have their best interests in mind, the hurdles to get rid of them are too high. There were a lot of promises made by the UAW, even if they don't deliver, they'll be in Chattanooga even if the membership decides they made a mistake.
  • 1995 SC How bout those steel tariffs. Wonder if everyone falls into the same camp with respect to supporting/opposing them as they did on the auto tariffs a few weeks ago. Doubt it. Wonder Why that would be?
  • Lorenzo Nice going! They eliminated the "5" numbers on the speedometer so they could get it to read up to 180 mph. The speed limit is 65? You have to guess one quarter of the needle distance between 60 and 80. Virtually every state has 55, 65, and 75 mph speed limits, not to mention urban areas where 25, 35, and 45 mph limits are common. All that guesswork to display a maximum speed the driver will never reach.