Feds Say They’ve Busted Fresno Catalytic Converter Theft Kingpin
A federal grand jury has indicted George Thomas, 70, of Clovis, for selling thousands of stolen catalytic converters from the Fresno area to a company in Oregon for more than $2.5 million.
In addition, authorities ask that anyone with knowledge of Thomas’ activities contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or tips.fbi.gov.
U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced the indictment after it was unsealed Monday following Thomas’s arrest.
Thomas is also accused of withdrawing the proceeds from his bank accounts in increments under $10,000 to avoid federal reporting requirements.
He owns a Clovis business that bills itself as a buyer of used auto parts that deals in precious metals.
Related Story: How Fresno Aims to Crack Down on Catalytic Converter Thieves
Indictment Outlines Alleged Scheme
According to court documents, Thomas concocted a sophisticated scheme in which Thomas paid thieves in cash and helped supply them with saws to cut off the converters.
It is alleged that between January 2021 and November 2022, Thomas purchased stolen catalytic converters from thieves in the Fresno area who cut the converters off people’s vehicles. The thieves called or texted Thomas to arrange the sales, and the sales occurred in parking lots and behind buildings at all hours.
Thomas paid the thieves significantly below market rates and in cash to conceal the source of the converters, prosecutors said.
He also allegedly gave the thieves instructions on the types of catalytic converters he was looking for and how to best cut the converters off of vehicles.
In addition, according to the indictment, Thomas took photographs of the thieves, and he required them to provide their identification cards and the Vehicle Identification Numbers for the vehicles from which the catalytic converters were supposedly cut off. Thomas told the thieves that it did not matter where they got the VINs.
In one instance, Thomas allegedly said, “It’s supposed to come off the one you got it off of, but it’s up to you what you do. All I need is a VIN number. …”
In other instances, Thomas altered the VINs that thieves gave him to make the VINs look better. Many of the VINs were later determined to be fake or from stolen vehicles.
Thomas Lied to Oregon Buyers of the Converters: Feds
Thomas allegedly drove the stolen catalytic converters to Oregon, where he sold the converters to a company that extracted the valuable metals and sold the metals for further processing.
Thomas made several misrepresentations to the Oregon company, including that he had purchased the converters from legitimate businesses and that the VINs he provided were for the vehicles from which the converters had been removed.
This case is the product of an investigation by the FBI, the Clovis Police Department, and the Fresno Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Barton and Justin Gilio are prosecuting the case.
If convicted, Thomas faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Thefts in Fresno
A catalytic converter is usually found at the bottom of a vehicle and helps control exhaust emissions. The part contains several valuable minerals, enticing would-be thieves to sell stolen converters to recycling plants for hundreds of dollars. The part can be sawed off in seconds.
Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama presented mixed numbers in February about catalytic converter thefts in the city. More than 2,000 were reported stolen in 2022 — a 30% increase over 2021. But, in the last six months prior to February, he said, thefts were down 14%.