Three members of a California family pleaded guilty for their roles in a “national network of thieves, dealers and processors” that shipped $600 million worth of stolen catalytic converters from California to New Jersey, federal prosecutors said.
Tou Sue Vang, 32; Andrew Vang, 28; and their mother, Monica Moua, 58, all of Sacramento, were part of a ring that conspired to transport stolen catalytic converters in return for more than $38 million in wired payments, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California announced on Monday.
All three pleaded guilty to conspiring to transport stolen catalytic converters from California to New Jersey, prosecutors said. Tou Sue Vang also pleaded guilty to an additional 39 charges related to money laundering.
Todd Leras, a lawyer for Andrew Vang, declined to comment, saying he preferred to do so in court filings. Lawyers for Ms. Moua and Tou Sue Vang did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
In October and November 2022, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies coordinated their efforts to crack down on what federal prosecutors described as a “nationwide catalytic converter theft conspiracy,” in which stolen catalytic converters were sold to a metal refinery for more than $600 million.
In recent years, thieves across the country have been slithering under vehicles and swiping catalytic converters, which remove the worst toxic pollutants from a car’s exhaust.
Catalytic converters are lucrative because they contain precious metals like palladium, rhodium and platinum that can be extracted and resold for up to $50 per gram. Nationwide, thefts of the device increased by more than 1,200 percent between 2019 and 2021, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
“Some of these precious metals are more valuable per ounce than gold, and their value has been increasing in recent years,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement announcing the guilty pleas, noting that the devices can be stolen in less than a minute. “The black market price for catalytic converters can be above $1,000 each.”
The family members from Sacramento operated an unlicensed business from their residence, where they bought stolen catalytic converters from local thieves and shipped them to DG Auto Parts LLC in New Jersey for processing, prosecutors said. The family members sold more than $38 million in stolen catalytic converters to the company.
Charges were filed against 21 people, including seven people who operated DG Auto in multiple locations in New Jersey, prosecutors said. Charges against the New Jersey defendants are pending.
The Vang brothers and Ms. Moua “knowingly purchased stolen catalytic converters and, through a ‘de-canning’ process, extracted the precious metal powders from the catalytic core,” prosecutors said, citing court records.
DG Auto then sold the metal powders it processed from California and elsewhere to a metal refinery.
Last year, about 1,600 catalytic converters were reported stolen in California each month, prosecutors said, noting that California accounted for 37 percent of all catalytic converter theft claims nationwide.
A sentencing date for the three family members from Sacramento has not been scheduled.
Andrew Vang and Ms. Moua each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The 40 counts to which Tou Sue Vang pleaded guilty carry maximum penalties that range from five to 20 years in prison, and fines that range from $500,000 to $250,000, prosecutors said.