The Justice Department on Wednesday announced what officials called the first national takedown of a criminal enterprise profiting from the rampant theft of catalytic converters.
The scope of the car parts operation was huge: Officials said they will seek $545 million in forfeitures of cash, luxury cars and real estate.
“Amidst a rise in catalytic converter thefts across the country, the Justice Department has today carried out an operation arresting 21 defendants and executing 32 search warrants in a nation-wide takedown of a multimillion-dollar catalytic converter theft network,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
Thefts of catalytic converters — an antipollution car part laden with platinum, palladium and rhodium — have exploded since the pandemic began, fueled by a surge in the value of those metals. Thieves made off with 12 times as many catalytic converters in 2021 as they did in 2019, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
In April, a deputy sheriff in Houston was shot and killed when he tried to stop thieves from stealing his converter.
Agents from the FBI, IRS and Homeland Security Investigations conducted operations in California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia. Two separate indictments in California and Oklahoma accuse the defendants of conspiracy to traffic in stolen property, alleging they bought stolen converters, stripped the valuable minerals and sold them to metal refineries.
Agents raided a $1.7 million home in Holmdel, New Jersey, allegedly owned by one of the accused, Navin “Lovin” Khanna. On his Instagram account, he posted a photo of a necklace with a pendant made to look like a catalytic converter. He could not be reached for comment.
A California indictment says Khanna operated DG Auto, which government records show has facilities in New Jersey and Wisconsin. Prosecutors say that was among the businesses allegedly purchasing stolen catalytic converters and reselling them. Federal agents also searched a business in Wrightstown, New Jersey, called Blacey’s U-Pick Autoparts.
Calls to DG Auto and Blacey’s were not answered, and the DG firm’s voice mailbox was full.
A federal grand jury in the Northern District of Oklahoma charged 13 defendants with conspiracy to receive stolen catalytic converters, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and other related charges. Some of those defendants are accused of selling converters to the Khanna operation.
Law enforcement officials said Wednesday that they had seized numerous luxury cars as part of the investigation.
“This national network of criminals hurt victims across the country,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. “They made hundreds of millions of dollars in the process — on the backs of thousands of innocent car owners.
“Today’s charges showcase how the FBI and its partners act together to stop crimes that hurt all too many Americans.”