DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (CBS) – A multi-million-dollar organized crime enterprise that specialized in catalytic converters thefts in the Delaware Valley has been dismantled, the Bucks County District Attorney said Tuesday.
A Philadelphia tow yard has been charged and nearly a dozen people have been arrested following a yearlong collaborative investigation between three dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Over the past few years, catalytic converter thefts have skyrocketed in Bucks County because of the money the thieves can fetch at scrap yards, the DA's office said.
Now, investigators what to hear from victims for possible reimbursement. Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub asked possible victims to call his office.
Owners of cars with stolen catalytic converters may be reimbursed for repair costs. Ken Hein, the owner of Greenwood Automotive Specialists in Glenside, said those repairs can cost a lot.
"Just upset. Just can't believe it," Hein said.
That is how Hein described his customers, whose catalytic converters were stolen. He said many do not know they are victims until after they are in the shop, adding that repairs can cost $800 for domestic cars and at least $1,800 for imports.
"Because, you are going to have to replace all the way from the front, all the way to the back where it meets the muffler and the oxygen sensor," Hein said.
Weintraub said thieves sell the parts for the expensive and precious metals inside.
Investigators said TDI Towing in the 2300 block of Wheatsheaf Lane in Philadelphia's Port Richmond neighborhood was identified as the main buyer of the catalytic converters stolen in Bucks and Montgomery counties. At its peak, officials said the business was paying a minimum of $10,000 a night to thieves selling stolen catalytic converters and paying up to $1,000 for a single converter. It was determined that TDI has been buying stolen catalytic converters for at least three years, buying 27,300 during that time for a total of nearly $8.2 million.
Investigators said the conducted thousands of hours of surveillance outside the tow company.
Weintraub showed police surveillance video he said was recorded just outside TDI.
"This is an example of a catalytic converter stolen so recently. That it was still too hot to handle," Weintraub said.
Ten people, a juvenile, as well as the business, have been charged with corrupt organizations, criminal conspiracy, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, theft by unlawful taking, theft of catalytic converts, theft by receiving stolen property, possession of an instrument of crime and criminal use of a communication facility. Those charged from TDI include 52-year-old Michael Williams, of Philadelphia; Williams'' sister-in-law 47-year-old Lisa Davalos, of Philadelphia; 41-year-old Eric Simpson, of Philadelphia; 30-year-old Michael Bruce, of Sewell, N.J.; 33-year-old Kevin Schwartz, of Philadelphia; and 24-year-old Patrick Hopkins, of Philadelphia. The thieves or "cutters," arrested have been identified as 35-year-old Michael Evangelist, of Philadelphia; 43-year-old Anthony Davalos Sr., of Philadelphia; and 48-year-old Gary Shirley, of Hatboro. An arrest warrant has also been issued for 39-year-old Richard Allan Page, of Warminster, who has not yet been located, officials said.
Investigators said there are still several others connected to the theft ring that have not yet been identified. Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner of Investigations Frank Vanore said his department and other agencies will continue to work together on crimes like these.
"It's a good day when we can put all our resources together, work together, and make an arrest like this," Vanore said.
CBS News Philadelphia called TDI Towing for a response to the charges but did not get a response after someone answered but then hung up the phone.
Anyone with information on the investigation or the whereabouts of Page is asked to call Bucks County detectives at 215-348-6354 or www.bucksda.org.
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