Catalytic converters in Arizona could be better protected under bill to close loopholes

A Arizona Lawmakers are proposing new legislation to crack down on the catalytic converter black market and the thieves who fuel it.

FOX 10 reduced the peak of cases Arizona law enforcement is confronting and affected victims are taking it to the wallet. Now there is a potential solution at the State Capitol.

It is important to note that there is already a law against anyone buying or selling a used catalytic converter. However, Arizona Rep. Diego Espinoza wants to fill the gaps by introducing new language to give this law more teeth and ultimately help law enforcement.

What could the bill help prevent?

Who actually buys stolen converters and where do they end up? That’s part of the battle, but Espinoza says this bill would deter black market buyers.

It’s hard to catch a scammer stealing a catalytic converter. Police across the Valley are trying to deal with a surge in robberies, particularly in Phoenix – 2021 saw a nearly 6,500% spike in reports.

“If we were to catch someone after the fact, and they were in possession of a catalytic converter, unless we knew where it came from, it would be difficult to link that particular converter to the victim’s car. “, explained Det. Adam Popelier with the Phoenix Police Department.

So who really buys stolen converters? Popelier says the chain of crimes begins with theft and the converters change hands several times, ending up in the possession of a “middleman” who could pay the thief a few hundred dollars.

The more converters collected, the more lucrative they are as they sell the stolen goods in bulk for a profit in a junkyard. Converters are “decanned”, meaning the ceramic honeycomb inside contains expensive metals which are removed and sent to an illegal smelter where platinum, rhodium and palladium are mined, distilled and sold to manufacturers.

In Arizona, it is “illegal for a person to buy or sell a used converter unless the purchase or sale is in the ordinary course of business by a commercial parts or repair business. motor vehicles in connection with the sale or installation of a new catalytic converter.”

Yet it still happens. Current state law does not make it illegal to possess, solicit, or advertise a used catalytic converter, the black market can be accessed online.

Online sale of unregulated converters

On apps and websites like OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, Craiglist, and eBay, you can find a used catalytic converter easily listed by many people, not companies.

Class 1 misdemeanor does not apply to scrap dealers who purchase the converter from an industrial account or after the converter has been cleared for release by a peace officer in the jurisdiction in which the transaction took place. location.

“As soon as we explain the process to them and they know they can’t bring it here without proper ID and proper proof or buying the one they’re replacing it with, they call someone. another,” says Trent Houg. , president of I Buy Scrap in Tempe, a large-scale scrap metal recycling facility.

His company can handle more than 250,000 pounds of ferrous materials every day, but Houg says there’s a strict protocol when catalytic converters are offered. If the transaction is legitimate, Houg says photos of the converter and the seller’s ID are taken.

It then reports the online sale to the Department of Public Security within 24 hours.

“We have sophisticated computer programs and we actually upload every night to a centralized database that the police are actually looking at it, so if there are any transactions that they are actually looking at, they can quickly identify who the people are. and the hardware they actually sold.”

HB 2652

Rep. Espinoza thinks his bill can slow the black market and deter theft of catalytic converters. HB 2562 has now moved on to the state Senate, heard by the Transportation and Technology Committee on March 14.

He went 9-0, and then he’s heading to the Senate rules committee.

HB 2652 would make it illegal to solicit, advertise, or possess a used converter other than buying or selling one. Again, this does not apply to licensed auto recyclers and scrap metal dealers doing business legally, but Espinoza wants to hold all dealerships accountable.

“Also ensuring that we reach out to scrap dealers and have additional reporting mechanisms in place and reporting to DPS to ensure we can track and monitor sales,” Espinoza said. .

Not only requiring reporting of transactions, but also inspection and re-inspection periods. A scrap metal dealer should register with the state and sign up for a free theft notification website allowing law enforcement to send details of stolen items within 100 miles of the theft .

Dealers would also notify law enforcement when offered suspicious materials.

If the legislation is passed, violations can result in civil fines of $500 to $4,000, and law enforcement can crack down on online used converter listings.

“What we’re doing is actually putting provisions in place where we can actually monitor these individuals and apprehend them,” Espinoza said.

State Senator Lisa Otondo spoke at the hearing saying, “I know of two people within a two-block radius in two different households who have had their catalytic converters stolen. This is a huge problem. Thanks for pointing this out…”

Espinoza breaks down the cost to insurance companies, saying, “From a current insurance company doing business here, in 2019 there were $4.6 million in claims for catalytic converters alone. In 2020, $20 million In 2021, $62.6 million in These claims are for catalytic converters only.”

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