INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Police reports indicate there have been at least six catalytic converter thefts in IMPD’s southeast district within the past 20 days.
While police have acknowledged they have an ongoing investigation, authorities have remained tight lipped about the scope of the problem or who many people could be involved.
Court records filed this week show an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer noted in a probable cause affidavit that he witnessed 27-year old Luke Johnson steal a catalytic converter from a Honda van in the Bates-Hendricks neighborhood last week.
After that officer relayed the information to another officer, Johnson was followed. Police say Johnson was driving a maroon van and pulled over on South Ransdell on Oct. 15. The officer noted that the van shook side to side “as if the person was walking around inside.”
“Officer Patton heard a metal hitting metal noise from inside the vehicle and then noticed the driver sitting in the back seat,” the court records state. He then ordered Johnson to get out. Inside the van, authorities found a Dewalt cordless reciprocating saw, three saw blades, batteries, a charger, a power inverter and two catalytic converters.
According to court records, Johnson stated that “he didn’t have anything to say and wouldn’t acknowledge if he understood his rights.” Later, after he was told he was being charged with theft, Johnson reportedly said, “A level 6 felony is nothing; that’s 90 days, if that — they aren’t going to do sh*t to me.”
Johnson had his initial in court Wednesday where a not guilty plea was likely entered on his behalf. Johnson was given a court-appointed attorney and given a $5,000 surety bond. He declined a request from jail to be interviewed.
IMPD returned the catalytic converter Johnson allegedly stole to Hermelindo Benitez’s wife, Blanca, the same day it was recovered by authorities. Benitez told I-Team 8 that he couldn’t understand why the item was stolen.
When asked how he felt, Benitez, said, “I was angry. I was angry about this.”
The feeling is one that Nelson Gum has grown accustomed to. Earlier this week, a catalytic converter was stolen off one of the Penske rental trucks that he rents from his service station in Fountain Square.
“We get a lot of calls from people who think their muffler blew out at night and it’s really the fact that someone stole their catalytic converter,” Gum said. “The thief works 24 hours a day; somebody has to sleep, and the police can’t be everywhere.
“The thieves probably get anywhere from $40 to $100 per converter. The customer that has to replace it, the minimum [for them] is about $500,” Gum said. “I had a customer that had a GMC pickup [and] it was $1,600 for his, and the internationals are about $400 a piece.”
Gum said the larger vehicles with higher ground clearance are more susceptible to being targeted than cars that are lower to the ground. It’s easier for the thieves to use a saw to cut them off, he said.
The Indiana legislature passed a law three years ago prohibiting people from being able to scrap or seller catalytic converters, and yet Gum points out, the thefts still occur.
IMPD’s Southeast District Commander declined to comment to I-Team 8 about the recent thefts but acknowledged that there is an ongoing investigation.