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GONE IN 60 SECONDS: Critical Car Part Swiped At Alarming Rate In US, Fairview PD Nabs Duo

Marquis Staton, Matthew Febus
Marquis Staton, Matthew Febus Photo Credit: FAIRVIEW PD / Stahlkocher <creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>

Fairview detectives caught two thieves stealing catalytic converters amid what's become an explosion of thefts of the previous devices nationwide, authorities said.

Law enforcement agencies everywhere are dealing with stealthy crews swiping the highly-prized emissions-control devices from the underbellies of vehicles parked in private driveways on otherwise quiet streets.

“It’s a quick type of theft. They slide under a vehicle, go snip-snip and they’re gone,” Police Chief Martin Kahn said Monday. “They don’t have to steal the whole car.”

Installed in almost all gasoline cars and trucks sold in the United States since 1975, catalytic converters help remove nitrogen oxide and other potentially toxic pollutants from a vehicle’s exhaust while reducing engine noise.

Their honeycomb interiors are coated with a trio of precious metals -- rhodium, palladium and platinum – that have become black market prizes.

They fetch insane prices: Rhodium alone can sell for upwards of $20,000 an ounce, over 10 times more than gold.

For thieves, it could mean several hundred dollars from a chop shop or other illicit buyer who will resell it to a recycler.

For you, it could mean a replacement bill of up to $2,000.

Fairview alone had 10 converter thefts over barely a month’s time. Kahn’s department made it a priority and over the weekend caught two thieves at work.

Detectives Anthony Schmitt and Ralph Guastella and Officer Sebastian Castano made the case after spotting Matthew Febus, 28, of Newark and Marquis Staton, 22, of Clearwater, FL get out of a Honda Accord with a temporary license plate on Fairview Avenue at Lincoln Street, Kahn said.

As they watched, the pair opened the trunk, got flashlights, then walked around the neighborhood checking out vehicles in driveways, he said.

Police stopped the Accord at Broad Avenue and found the pair with a stolen converter, as well as a battery-powered saw, saw blades, a bolt cutter and black gloves, among other items.

Febus and Staton both remained held Monday in the Bergen County Jail pending first appearances in Central Judicial Processing Court in Hackensack. They’re charged with theft, receiving stolen property, criminal mischief and possession of burglary tools.

An investigation was continuing, Kahn said.

What should you know about catalytic converters?

For one thing, certain older foreign cars are more attractive because they hold more precious metals than newer vehicles. Same for the Toyota Prius -- which, because it’s a hybrid, doesn’t burn through converters as quickly as gas guzzlers.

Kahn advised that owners consider:

  • Parking in a garage or well-lit area;
  • Using security cameras;
  • Making sure vehicle alarms detect vibrations;
  • Engraving your VIN number on the converter;
  • Exploring cover-specific security devices.

And, of course, call police the instant you see any suspicious activity outside or near your home, he said.

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