Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Police nail alleged auto part thieves


Following a spate of catalytic converter thefts in the Santa Barbara area, local law enforcement nabbed three suspects allegedly in the act of stealing the exhaust system device early Tuesday morning.

Police received a call from witnesses at 3:16 a.m. who reported seeing suspects tampering with a Toyota 4Runner in the 200 block of Mohawk Drive, said Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte of the Santa Barbara Police Department.
“Due to the recent rash of catalytic converter thefts in the city, a perimeter was set up in the area of the call,” he said in a news release.
Witnesses told police they saw a red vehicle parked and running next to the Toyota. When officers arrived on Mohawk Drive, they spotted a red car stopped in the roadway and a suspect walking away from another Toyota 4Runner in the area, Sgt. Duarte said.
After stopping the vehicle, police spoke with the three occupants and spotted tools in the vehicle capable of removing the exhaust treatment device.
“A search of the vehicle revealed five catalytic converters in the trunk,” Sgt. Duarte said. “Officers then found a Toyota 4Runner with a missing catalytic converter parked in front of the reporting party’s house.”
Police arrested Jose Eduardo Elvir, 26, of Los Angeles, Francisco Gegan Torres, 33, of Las Vegas, and Rafael Perez Marquez, 20, of Los Angeles.
Authorities booked Elvir on suspicion of grand theft, possession of burglary tools and stolen property, conspiracy, providing false information to a police officer and violation of parole.
Torres and Marquez were arrested on suspicion of grand theft, possession of burglary tools and stolen property, and conspiracy.
Det. Sgt. William Marazita of the Santa Barbara Police Department, who is leading the investigation into local catalytic converter thefts, said in a recent interview that authorities have received reports of at least 18 thefts in the past month.
He said it’s unclear if the recently arrested trio is responsible for all of the stolen parts.
“It’s hard to say,” Det. Sgt. Marazita said. “We suspect there is probably more than one group that is responsible for them.”
While thieves might sell the stolen parts to muffler shops or salvage yards, many are reportedly after the device for previous metals such as platinum and palladium used as the catalyst to help reduce emissions before they leave the exhaust pipe.
Crooks target Toyota SUVs primarily due to the ease of sliding under the higher vehicles to pop off the bolts holding the device in place.
Sgt. Duarte urged residents to park in driveways or garages to limit the possibility of theft. Authorities also asked the public to call police after observing any suspicious behavior.
“It definitely starts with the phone call from the public,” Det. Sgt. Marazita said.

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