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Catalytic converter theft ring busted by Tri-Valley police

Almost a year after a watchful citizen first tipped off local authorities, several individuals were recently arrested in connection with a suspected catalytic converter theft ring that included multiple victims in the Tri-Valley.

Almost a year after a watchful citizen first tipped off local authorities, several individuals were recently arrested in connection with a suspected catalytic converter theft ring that included multiple victims in the Tri-Valley.

Robert Anthony Amial, 40, and Enrique Fernando Lopez, 44, both from Stockton, and Stephan James Evanovich, 42, of Elverta, were arrested in late October, according to the Pleasanton Police Department.

Authorities said the warrants "were the result of an extensive investigation that was initiated by an alert citizen who provided information related to a catalytic converter theft in the Tri-Valley."

Livermore police said in a statement that in January 2021, "an observant Livermore resident witnessed people acting suspiciously in their area" and was able to capture a partial license plate, which they reported to the Livermore Police Department. After responding to the call, officers learned that a catalytic converter theft had occurred.

Using the citizen's tip and partial license plate, LPD officers were able to identify possible suspects through an investigation and apprehended the suspect about four days later, but also wanted "to identify suspects and learn where catalytic converter thieves were taking them after the thefts."

Over the course of a five-month investigation, LPD "developed substantial investigative leads that led them to three different counties and out of California." The large scale of the investigation prompted LPD and PPD to create a special full-time joint task force of four officers and two sergeants dedicated to pursuing catalytic converter thefts.

"The same suspects coming to Livermore, are coming to Pleasanton, so we decided to try to see if we could make a more sizable impact," PPD Lt. Erik Silacci told the Weekly.

On Oct. 25, members from both departments as well as the Alameda County Sheriffs Office, Stockton Police Department and the California Highway Patrol all served search warrants at three locations in Stockton. Two suspects were arrested, and authorities recovered 25 catalytic converters along with $91,000 in cash, illegal weapons, and drugs during the search.

The next day, Pleasanton and Livermore detectives assisted the Placer County Sheriffs Office and CHP personnel in searching a residence in Elverta, where one suspect was arrested and 15 additional catalytic converters and five stolen vehicles were recovered.

Evidence was also found "showing hundreds of catalytic converters had been dismantled after being dropped at the chop shops."

In addition to identifying "multiple locations that were operating as chop shops for stolen property" in Stockton and Placer County, authorities identified a criminal theft ring that stole catalytic converters throughout California and Oregon, then dropped off the stolen converters at the chop shops.

Silacci said the suspects are well-known to authorities, and that one had a warrant and another had been recently bailed out of jail by other suspects connected to the theft ring.

The thefts occurred "all over the city," according to Silacci, including business parks and residential areas.

"These crews will go out and scope what vehicles they want to steal catalytic converters from and then revisit those areas at night," Silacci said.

Once the part is stolen, a middleman typically sells it on the black market, where the price can fluctuate from a couple hundred dollars to more than $1,000.

Breaking up the theft ring is big news but Silacci said, "We get these (thefts) weekly so we ask the public to remain vigilant," and suggested that residents consider installing a theft deterrent device because "it's costing people thousands of dollars to replace their catalytic converters."

"We're still investigating this; we have other suspects we may look at," Silacci said. "We're pleased with the way the case has gone in such a short amount of time."