ST. GEORGE — A LaVerkin man is in custody facing multiple charges filed in connections with several unrelated investigations, including a case involving the theft of several catalytic converters – a specific crime that has increased by more than 600% across the state over the last two years.
The investigation into the thefts began Aug. 24 when officers were dispatched to a wrecking yard in St. St. George to follow-up on a report involving nine catalytic converters that were stolen from the facility. A number of the converters were still operational and were lined up to be sold.
Officers went to Purgatory Correctional Facility to speak to the inmate suspected in the thefts, 39-year-old Frank Nathan Madrid, who was still in custody following his arrest the day before during a traffic stop in which officers reportedly found narcotics and paraphernalia in the vehicle.
While speaking to officers, the suspect said he took the nine converters from the wrecking yard, and from there he took the converters to Las Vegas where he sold them to a number of recycling facilities over the course of several days.
According to the report, each catalytic converter was worth as much as $800.
On Friday, the suspect was charged with third-degree felony theft and made an initial appearance in 5th District Court later that same day.
One of the cases the suspect was being held on was filed following an investigation into a report received Aug. 8 involving a theft reported by a hardware store on North State Street in Hurricane.
The surveillance footage showed a man who appeared to be donning a black wig, a hat and sunglasses enter the store where he took a pair of mechanic’s gloves and put them in his pocket.
From there, the suspect took two rolls of copper coiled wire and removed the packaging that was placed back on the shelf. The suspect then put the rolls in a backpack and walked out of the store.
According to the report, the officer noted he recognized the man in the surveillance footage as Madrid, who allegedly donned the same black wig and black Puma athletic shoes he was seen in recently, and enter a junk yard that was closed at the time.
The officer had several previous encounters with the suspect, and the report also stated that Madrid had been charged with trespassing at an area grocery story following another retail theft reported months before, and a background check revealed a number of theft cases and convictions, including a conviction for the theft of a firearm.
The suspect was interviewed at the jail on Sept. 23, which is when he allegedly admitted to taking the items from the store in Hurricane. He was later charged with retail theft and trespassing, the report states, and was also on probation when the alleged crimes occurred.
Urban mining and the meteoric rise in catalytic converter thefts
The number of catalytic converter thefts that has continued to climb caught the attention of the Utah Attorney General’s Office when they announced in June the launch of ‘Operation Urban Mining,’ a massive joint effort to fight this type of theft that can take less than two minutes.
While the theft of catalytic converters from vehicles has been a growing problem nationwide, there has been a 600% increase in the number of converters stolen over the past two years in Utah alone, the AGs office says.
The theft of these devices has also been covered by St. George News three times this year, including an April report outlining the spike in the number of reports of catalytic converters being stolen in Mesquite Nevada. A February story outlined an arrest involving the theft of two catalytic converters taken in Cedar City, as well as a report published in January after Southern Utah University Police issued a statement involving two individuals suspected of stealing five converters.
These converters are stolen for their precious metals, including palladium, rhodium, platinum, titanium, and other materials – and can be sold for as much as $400 per converter. With the price of palladium at more than $2,700 an ounce, and rhodium listed at $20,250 an ounce, according to Metalary, it is no wonder that thieves prefer these high-ticket items that can be sold at many recycling outlets.
The thefts are perpetrated by thieves who crawl underneath vehicles in parking lots, parking garages, and residential driveways and use metal saws to remove the device – which also happens to be a crucial part of a vehicle’s emission system and is costly to replace.
On average, each converter costs as much as $1,800, and some are as high as $3,000, and without it, the vehicle is rendered useless.
Through the course of the operation, investigators uncovered many legitimate scrap metal and recyclable dealers that were not following Utah laws or best practices. The task force also discovered that many illegal catalytic converter transactions were taking place in the parking lots of large stores and strip malls.
The multi-jurisdiction sting operation included undercover law enforcement officers, scrap metal dealers and recyclers, and thieves attempting to sell stolen converters online. So far, the operation has resulted in three arrests, six criminal warnings, 13 criminal violations and the same number of dealer audits. Moreover, 124 catalytic converters were also seized as evidence.
Madrid is scheduled to appear in 5th District Court on Thursday and is being held on $5,000 bail. He has remained in custody since his arrest Sept. 23.
Ed. Note: A new Utah law generally prohibits the release of arrest booking photos until after a conviction is obtained.
This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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