Towing Company Charged in Multimillion-Dollar Catalytic Converter Ring

A Philadelphia towing company has been charged with buying millions of dollars’ worth of stolen catalytic converters from a network of thieves over three years and reselling them for a profit, local prosecutors announced this week.

The company, TDI Towing, and 11 people were charged in connection with the theft ring, which the authorities said on Tuesday had been dismantled after a nearly yearlong investigation by dozens of law enforcement agencies in several jurisdictions.

The inquiry revealed that at the operation’s peak, TDI Towing was spending at least $10,000 a night buying stolen converters from thieves, also known as cutters, who cycled through the company’s tow yard with the pilfered car parts, according to the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office, which led the investigation.

Investigators found that the yard spent roughly $8.2 million buying the stolen parts. That broke down to a weekly average of 175 stolen converters purchased at $300 apiece, adding up to roughly 27,300 units over a three-year period. TDI Towing would then sell the converters to an unnamed purchaser for a profit.

Generally, stolen converters that are sold on the black market end up in the hands of recyclers who extract the valuable metals inside.

The kingpin of the operation was TDI Towing’s owner, Michael Williams, of Philadelphia, said Matthew Weintraub, Bucks County’s district attorney. Mr. Williams, 52, was charged with eight felonies, including criminal conspiracy and corrupt organizations charges. Some of the charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors also charged TDI Towing, the corporation, and a number of its employees with criminal conspiracy. Many of the employees had a “family connection” to Mr. Williams, according to prosecutors. Other charges include theft of a catalytic converter and theft by receiving stolen property.

Ten of the 11 people charged in the case have already been arraigned. One suspect, Richard Allan Page, 39, of Warminster, Pa., remains at large. Mr. Page faces 13 felony counts, including stealing a catalytic converter.

Mr. Williams and his co-defendants were one link in the illegal trade’s chain, Mr. Weintraub said.

Investigators estimated that TDI Towing made an 8 percent profit on each converter it resold to a buyer higher up the chain, according to Mr. Weintraub.

Based on that figure, Mr. Williams’s business took in an estimated $655,200 in profit selling the stolen converters.

Mr. Williams’s lawyer, Bruce L. Castor Jr., said on Thursday that his client had not yet entered a plea. Online court dockets did not list lawyers for the other defendants. A preliminary hearing for the defendants is set for July 5, Mr. Weintraub said.

The charges were among the latest to target a type of crime that has increased substantially across the country in recent years. Catalytic converters, devices that reduce a vehicle’s harmful emissions, contain the precious rare metals platinum, rhodium and palladium, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which tracks automobile thefts and insurance fraud.

The part can be sawed off the belly of a car in a matter of minutes and then sold to scrap yards for hundreds of dollars in some cases.

“That’s quite a windfall — $300 and 100 percent profit for these cutters,” Mr. Weintraub said. “Once word gets out that if you cut them, you have a place to take them and convert them into cold hard cash, that word gets out there and spreads like a virus nonstop.”

The National Insurance Crime Bureau said there were 64,701 insurance claims for stolen catalytic converters in 2022, compared with 16,660 just two years earlier. It can cost car owners anywhere from $1,000 to $3,500 or more to replace them, the organization said.

The authorities have been cracking down on the booming crime.

In November, the Department of Justice said it dismantled a theft ring that spanned several states. In that case, DG Auto Parts LLC, based in New Jersey, purchased stolen converters and sold them to a metal refinery for “over $545 million,” the Department of Justice said.

Mr. Weintraub said that he hoped to win some restitution for people whose converters were stolen, though the sheer scale of the case could make it difficult to identify victims.

“At some point, the members of this organization, including the corporation, will have to decide whether they want to fight this or whether they want to make good and take criminal responsibility,” Mr. Weintraub said. “One of the best ways that they can acknowledge criminal responsibility is by paying back as many people as possible.”

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