Bill Morris’s mechanic knew there was a problem when he turned on a vehicle’s engine and it sounded like a freight train.

One look under the body explained why: The catalytic converter was gone.

Thieves stole the pollution control devices off Morris’s two food catering trucks overnight July 22 while they were parked at his business off Clague Parkway.

Morris is not alone. Since mid-March, police in Bay Village, Fairview Park, Lakewood, North Ridgeville, North Olmsted and Westlake have recorded 17 thefts of catalytic converters. Thieves are stealing the catalytic converters from cars and trucks to sell for their precious metals. Some converters can bring $200 or more.

“It was pretty frustrating, I haven’t had it happen before,” said Morris, who owns Smokin’ Rock n’ Roll, a food truck and catering business in Bay Village.

Morris then had to deal with the repair bill for the two Ford vans.

“You’re talking more than $1,000 to get them replaced,” he said. “It also stopped me from going out and doing other business because they were in the shop most of the day. I was lucky because a friend got me in and did it as quickly as they could, but it’s still tough.”

The catalytic converter is a 1- to 2-foot device that is attached to a vehicle’s exhaust system underneath the car. Polluted fumes enter the metal box and are converted to less harmful gases, which leave through the tailpipe.

Converters contain valuable metals, such as palladium, rhodium and platinum, which is why thieves steal them. They sell them for the metals, often on the black market, police said.

“Criminals are looking for ways to make money quickly and cutting off the converters for those metals and selling them is a way to get that money,” said Capt. Jerry Vogel of the Westlake Police Department.

Since April 1, Westlake police have received reports of nine converters stolen. In one incident, the thieves also broke into trailers and took tools, Vogel said.

“All of them were along the I-90 corridor, such as on Detroit or Bassett roads, and we believe that most of these are related,” Vogel said. ”In some cases they just took the converter, in other incidents tools were taken, and in some they took a converter and tools.”

Vogel said Westlake is working with Cleveland, Bay Village, North Olmsted and other departments to find them.

North Olmsted Police Chief Bob Wagner said his department has investigated the theft of three converters this year, all from Hondas. The first theft occurred March 12 from a Honda Odyssey on David Drive. The second was on April 1 from a Honda Element in the RTA Park and Ride lot on Great Northern Boulevard and the most recent one was on June 17 from another Honda Element in the Goodwill/Save-A-Lot parking lot on Lorain Road.

“They’re targeting areas with lots of vehicles where they can get in and out,” Wagner said. “They use cutting tools which go through the metal in just a couple of minutes so they can get them and take off. The thieves like the commercial vehicles because they can get under them easier and work quickly.”

Besides taking the converter, criminals can damage other parts of the car, creating more frustration for the vehicle owner, Wagner said.

“They aren’t real concerned if they hit something else while cutting as long as they get the converter, so if they do that, then it’s hundreds of additional dollars,” he said.

In North Ridgeville, a business reported July 26 that a converter had been cut off a commercial truck in an Avon-Belden Road lot, Capt. Marti Garrow said.

The Avon, Avon Lake and Sheffield Village police departments said they have had no reports of

stolen converters this year.

Larry Goodwin, owner of the Broadway Scrap Metals in Cleveland, said someone can’t come into his business and sell multiple converters.

“If it’s an individual, they can only sell one a day,” Goodwin said. “If they have more than one, we won’t do it that way.”

Goodwin said the business requires a driver’s license or state ID, which it copies. It also checks Ohio Homeland Security’s Do Not Buy records and rejects sales from catalytic converter and scrap thieves in those records. He is required to send records of his converter sales to Homeland Security daily, he said.

Businesses can sell more than one at a time but must prove that the business exists, Goodwin said.

“Someone can’t just come in and say they’re from a business with several trucks’ converters and sell several,” Goodwin said. “We document what the business is and who’s working for them.”

Some scrap yards said they won’t buy converters and others said they would have to see them before saying how much they would pay. Goodwin said his prices for converters vary.

“A high-end one can go for $200 and the low-quality ones go for as little as $5,” he said.

Police remind vehicle owners to follow some safeguards to prevent thefts. If possible, park the vehicle in a closed, locked garage. Open lots should have good lighting, so activity in them is visible. Security cameras can be installed in parking areas. Cameras should be in a prominent place where potential thieves can see them and realize they’ll be on video footage.

“You want to make it as difficult as possible for them to try and get at that converter,” Vogel said.

Contact this reporter at assoceditor@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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