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Tri-county investigation leads to multiple arrests

Tri-county investigation leads to multiple arrests
Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 10:47 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A tri-county investigation into catalytic converter thefts that took place over about a year, called Operation “Sawzall”, has yielded multiple arrests in New Hanover, Pender and Onslow counties.

Arrests began Tuesday, April 19, with 27 individuals across three counties receiving a total of 423 felony charges. During the arrests, law enforcement officers seized 653 catalytic converters.

New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon said there had been over 200 thefts of catalytic converters in New Hanover County in the past two years, including 22 reported thefts so far in 2022.

Investigators from the three counties met in February to combine their investigation into Operation “Sawzall.” Those arrested were identified and tracked over the past two months.

“Victims range from businesses, churches, active-duty Marines, everybody,” said Chief Deputy Chris Thomas with the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office. “They would ride by a location like a church, there would be a church in a rural community and everybody knows churches have vans that would be left alone there during the week, so they were easy targets for them.”

Investigators allege thieves would sell the stolen converters to a man named Emerson Jordan, who would then re-sell them across the state to make a profit, leaving victims to pay the price.

“To the individual (who) had it stolen from their car, it’s costing them between $13-(hundred) and $3000 to replace it,” Thomas said. “So the value, or the impact on our citizens is tremendous to have to come up with that kind of money because your vehicle tech does not really work without that.”

While there is not much you can do to prevent your car from being stolen, McMahon offers some advice.

“Try to park in a lit area,” McMahon said. “If you have alarms, put your alarms on. Whether the alarms actually work or not depends on the individual alarm.”

Pender County Sheriff Alan Cutler expressed praise for the work done by all agencies.

“Pender County is extremely pleased at the way the agencies have worked together on this case and were able to put closure on a huge problem.”

The operation was named “Sawzall” because of how easy it is to saw off a catalytic converter in minutes. Rhodium, palladium and other precious metals can be farmed from the catalytic converters and sold. Suspects were getting at least $250 from each sale.

Catalytic converters are an expensive loss to consumers and can cost thousands to be replaced.

The multi-agency investigation will continue and more arrests are likely.

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