FORT PIERCE — Five men were arrested Thursday and Friday and charged with stealing nearly 200 catalytic converters, the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said Sunday.
The Thanksgiving thefts occurred at Copart, a used-car seller near the 2600 block of Center Road in Fort Pierce, a sheriff’s office spokesperson said. Deputies recovered around 180 stolen converters, but police expect that number to rise.
It’s the largest number of catalytic converters recovered at one time by the sheriff’s office, Deputy Chief Brian Hester said. The next highest number of stolen converters was about 30, he said, which is part of a joint investigation with other local agencies that’s been ongoing since July.
“These people were going in and cutting these catalytic converters off, and they would have made big money off of them,” Hester said.
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Catalytic converters, which are part of a vehicle’s exhaust system, help reduce pollutants and harmful gases in emissions. Local law enforcement has deemed the rise in cspantspanlytic converter thefts to be a “national epidemic.”
The parts contain small amounts of expensive metals, such as rhodium, palladium and platinum, which could go for around $200 per stolen cspantspanlytic converter.
“I think everybody’s been very alert to the fact that this has been going on,” Hester said. “And everybody reacted very well.”
Around 8 p.m. Friday, Copart’s owner called 911 after seeing two ladders leaning against the property’s perimeter wall, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office.
Four suspects — Carlos Martinez, 30; Carlos Umberto Argueta Bonnila, 51; Jose Octavio Martin Hernandez, 51; and Jose Odair Martinez Funez, 39 — were arrested on scene and taken to the St. Lucie County Jail.
A fifth suspect, Ladonte Shaquille Hill, 29, was arrested later at a nearby hotel. The men traveled to St. Lucie County from North Carolina, according to the sheriff’s office.
Each was arrested on charges of burglary of an occupied structure, possession of burglary tools with intent to use, and grand theft. Each man was being held Sunday on $190,000 bail.
Copart’s owner could not be reached for comment Sunday. Neither Hester nor a sheriff’s office spokesperson could provide further details about the investigation Sunday afternoon.
In comparison to this week’s thefts, the most catalytic converters recovered spant one time by the Port St. Lucie Police Depspanrtment was 13, TCPalm reported in August.
Anyone with further information is asked to call St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office or Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-800-273-TIPS.