Four Arrested in Catalytic Converter Theft

By Jorge Casuso

December 9, 2022 — Four suspects were arrested for grand theft early Friday morning after stealing a catalytic converter from a Prius parked in the Pico Neighborhood.

Officers responded to a radio call around 2:10 am reporting the theft on the 2200 block of 22nd street near Virginia Avenue Park, police said.

Catalytic converters and tools
Catalytic converters and tools from suspects’ vehicles (courtesy SMDP)

“The 911 caller reported that several subjects had just removed the catalytic converter from his sister’s 2010 Prius,” said Lt. Erika Aklufi.

Within minutes, police spotted the suspects — who fled in a dark blue Honda Accord and a dark green or gray Dodge Charger — “driving in a convoy” on Oak Street, Aklufi said.

Officers stopped the vehicles and detained the occupants without incident, she said.

“The reporting party was able to positively identify the Honda as having been involved in the commission of the theft.”

Police searched the Honda — which was occupied by Jose Izguerra Duarte, 23, of Long Beach and Michael Pedraja, 19, of Los Angeles — and found four catalytic converters from Prius vehicles.

They also found tools commonly used in catalytic converter thefts —
a Daytona jack with the handle, a Milwaukee reciprocating saw with a 6” saw blade, additional 6” saw blades, an electric impact driver and three jack stands.

In addition, officers found a replica handgun on the passenger side floorboard, Aklufi said.

Inside the Charger — which was driven by Jasenda Argueta, 21, of Gardena with Victor Duarte Macias, 19, of Antioch in the passenger seat — officers found a Milwaukee power tool battery and the handle to a floor jack.

During a jail search, officers found a white, powdered substance in Argueta’s wallet that was “preliminarily identified as cocaine,” Aklufi said.

All four suspects were booked into the Santa Monica Jail for Grand Theft, police said. Argueta was also booked for a Health & Safety Code violation for drug possession.

Over the past five years, catalytic converter thefts have driven a surge in the theft of auto parts in Santa Monica, police said.

The devices — which convert toxic gases into less toxic pollutants — contain platinum and other precious metals that are highly sought after by scrap metal dealers.

Thieves can make anywhere from $25 to $300 for a standard catalytic converter and as much as $1,400 from hybrid vehicles, which require the use of more precious metals, according to experts.

Using a battery operated power saw, a thief can cut out a catalytic converter from under a vehicle within minutes, police officials said.

According to a report published in Carfax this summer, the Toyota Prius was the most targeted car in the western states for catalytic converter theft, including California.

Santa Monica police have said that Prius is the most targeted vehicle in the city, where hybrids and electric vehicles are common. Hondas, as well as Toyota and Ford trucks, have seen an increase in catalytic converter thefts.

Anyone with more information about Friday’s theft or the suspects involved should call Detective Jauregui at 310-458-8944, the Criminal Investigations Division at 310-458-8451, or the Santa Monica Police Department’s Watch Commander (24 hours) at 310-458- 8426.

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