When Manteca Police responded to a call Tuesday morning about a vehicle that was seen in the area of Moffat Boulevard trying to steal catalytic converters, they thought they were responding to a theft.
But when they ultimately located the car and searched it, they found a whole lot more than just stolen car parts.
According to the agency, officers were provided a license plate number and were able to locate the suspect vehicle and initiate a traffic stop – removing three suspects from the car before searching it.
In the search, officers discovered a Polymer 80 ghost gun without a serial number, 287 various ammunition cartridges, methamphetamine, two pipes commonly used for smoking methamphetamine, shaved keys used for accessing cars, pepper spray, and a police baton.
All three occupants of the vehicle were arrested and booked into the San Joaquin County Jail on upwards of a dozen different firearm and drug-related offenses.
In October, three California residents from the Sacramento area were taken into custody for their role in a nationwide catalytic converter theft ring where authorities estimate that they stole more than $600 million worth of the exhaust system staple, which are often targeted by thieves because they contain trace elements of precious metals like platinum and can fetch upwards of $1,000 each on the black market.
The stolen catalytic converters in that case were transported across the country to New Jersey, and the family was paid over $38 million for the haul, according to the wire transfer receipts that were presented in the case.
Law enforcement agencies from across the country – including in Manteca – have worked to prevent the crime by partnering with local business that provide complementary welding of the car part to the frame of the vehicle in order to make it harder to steal, and to etch VIN numbers into the actual catalytic converter to make it easier to trace if it were to be stolen.
According to federal prosecutors in that case, California accounts for nearly 40 percent of all catalytic converter thefts in the United States – despite being approximately only 10 percent of the population – and that the crime occurs about 1,600 times every month.
For victims of the crime, replacing a stolen catalytic converter can run from approximately $800 to over $4,000. And since it’s a required component to meet emissions standards – the chambers inside of the unit convert harmful byproducts of internal combustion into benign elements like steam, thus improving air quality – that means that cars cannot legally pass a smog check, and be registered, unless one is present.
To contact Bulletin reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com.