Catalytic converter thieves arrested by LAPD officers

Drivers can now feel a little safer parking their cars near USC.

Last week, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested two individuals they believe may be responsible for stealing more than 60 catalytic converters from around the Los Angeles area,

including at USC.

Catalytic converter theft has run rampant at USC and in the surrounding area, according to Capt. David Carlisle of USC’s Department of Public Safety. Carlisle said there were more than 20 thefts both in 2008 and so far in 2009.

Catalytic converters — part of a vehicle’s exhaust system — are stolen because they contain trace amounts of valuable metals, including platinum, palladium and rhodium. Thieves can sell the converters to metal recyclers who can use the precious metals.

Most of the time, the converters were stolen from Toyota pickup trucks, because the converters are easily accessible on those models, Carlisle said.

“It’s something that occurs all the time and we started having those thefts, so that really comes to our attention as a specific problem,” Carlisle said.

The Sept. 4 arrest of two suspects — 28-year-old Juan Calderon and 36-year-old Christopher Williams — came as the result of a joint investigation between LAPD, DPS and UCLA’s campus police force.

“Our detectives have been working with LAPD all along in coordinating dates and times and these pieces of information so LAPD would have a clear picture of any trends,” Carlisle said.

The two men were arrested by LAPD Pacific-LAX detectives after officers witnessed them removing a catalytic converter from a car parked on USC’s campus.

According to Carlisle, LAPD has recovered eight converters so far and expects to recover more.

“While we know these suspects completed at least one theft in a structure on campus … I suspect they were responsible for most, if not all,” Carlisle said.

LAPD will continue to investigate the series of thefts in an attempt to determine how many converter thefts Williams and Calderon were involved in.

Calderon is currently being held without bail and Williams is being held on $20,000 bail.

Officer Bruce Borihanh, a spokesman for LAPD, said the two will likely face charges of vehicle tampering, burglary from a motor vehicle and receiving stolen property.

Anyone with information regarding catalytic converter crimes is asked to call Pacific-LAX Detective Axel De Leon, at (310) 577-3473.