Seven men who authorities say played a part in a multistate theft ring were arrested on charges of stealing at least 470 catalytic converters over the past year, US Attorney Rachael Rollins announced Wednesday.
Rollins, giving a press conference Wednesday morning alongside authorities from the FBI, State Police, and National Insurance Crime Bureau, said the crew stole more than $2 million in catalytic converters, plus some bank machines and jewelry.
The suspects — all facing multiple charges in connection with what federal authorities describe as an “organized theft crew” — are Rafael Davila, 35, of Feeding Hills; Jose Torres, 37, of Springfield; Nicolas Davila, 25, of Springfield; Jose Fonseca, 26, of Springfield; Zachary Marshall, 26, of Holyoke; Santo Feliberty, 34, of Springfield; and Alexander Oyola, 37, of Springfield.
They are charged with counts including conspiracy to transport stolen property, interstate transportation of stolen property, bank theft, and money laundering conspiracy. Rollins said officers served warrants on nine locations around the Springfield area, seizing 16 cars and five firearms.
State Police said troopers on Wednesday seized seven guns, six cars, seven motorcycles, two jet skis, a boat and more than 20 stolen catalytic converters from the sites connected to the crew.
Rafael Davila, also known as “Robbin Hood,” was the ringleader of the Western Massachusetts-based crew, according to federal authorities.
Rollins said Davila’s “meticulous notes” provided a roadmap for authorities to tie the thefts together.
“[Davila’s notes] detailed the extensive criminal conspiracy that he orchestrated,” the FBI wrote in an affidavit. “According to the Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit, DAVILA’s note files include at least 362 entries that reference approximately 1,755 catalytic converters for a total value of at least $572,495.”
FBI Boston Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta described Davila as “extremely organized.”
The federal investigation that the US Attorney’s office eventually would dub “Operation Cut & Run” fixated on Davila after FBI agents figured out his maroon Acura was at the scene of at least 470 of the thefts across Massachusetts and New Hampshire, court documents state. Often, the car had different license plates, and the FBI says Davila stole several.
Davila, according to court documents, wrote in a text to an unidentified person that “I use my truck and my plate, I do all the planning, all the driving, charge batteries, buy material, I make sure we have what we need and I help you when I can running around.” Court documents state he extensively researched the respective values of different cars’ catalytic converters to figure out which would be most worth his while.
Rollins compared the “cutters” — as she said this genre of thief is called — to a “NASCAR pit crew” in their efficiency, sometimes taking less than a minute to get the part out from the bottom of a vehicle. At the press conference, she presented several of the catalytic converters and a looping video montage of some of the alleged thefts, including some from various vehicles and other smash-and-grab scenes from jewelry stores.
“These videos depict the skill and speed with which these individuals could jack up a vehicle and cut the catalytic converter out,” Rollins said. She said they sometimes target trucks because it’s even easier to cut their converters out since they don’t need to be jacked up.
The crew is accused of hitting cars around various parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire between March 2022 and last month.
Court documents allege that Torres was the middleman who would sell the stolen items to “core buyers” out of state. Torres, also known as “Goldy Tech,” owned a company registered as “Scrapguys413″ that advertised itself as buying catalytic converters and junk cars.
The converters, which federal environmental laws require on fuel-powered cars, contain palladium, platinum, and rhodium — metals that sell for sizeable profits on the black market and can be used in electronics, authorities said.
Bonavolonta described the market for such materials as “exploding,” in part following the supply-chain issues in the past couple of years.
“Catalytic-converter theft has become a nationwide problem across multitudes of states, local and federal jurisdictions,” Rollins said, adding that as of Monday, rhodium was going for $8,200 an ounce, platinum $1,022 and palladium around $1,500.
The federal court records further note that “the theft of catalytic converters has become increasingly popular because of their value, relative ease to steal, and their lack of identifying markings.”
Local authorities have been trying to find outside-the-box methods to change that. In Watertown, the police department has been partnering with a local Toyota dealership and sign company to create a stencil to spray-paint the words “Property of Watertown Police” onto converters in the hopes of scaring thieves and buyers off.
State lawmakers enacted a law in January looking to cut down on thefts by making the converters harder to sell. The law mandates that scrap dealers require proof of the seller’s identification when they buy the converters. It also calls on the dealers to require a bill of sale for the converter or another legal document demonstrating ownership.
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.