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Press Release

Member of Catalytic Converter Theft Crew Pleads Guilty

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts
Theft crew responsible for an estimated $2 million in losses across Massachusetts and New Hampshire during 2022 and 2023

BOSTON – A Springfield, Mass. man pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court in Boston to his role in a regional organized theft crew that stole catalytic converters from nearly 500 vehicles, robbed jewelry stores and stole ATMs. 

Carlos Fonseca, 33, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport stolen property in interstate commerce and interstate transportation of stolen property. U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin scheduled sentencing for June 21, 2024 

In April 2023, Carlos Fonseca was arrested and charged along with six others in connection with the theft, transportation and sale of stolen catalytic converters taken from at least 496 vehicles across Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 2022 through April 2023 alone. It is believed that a significant number of additional thefts have not been identified or were not ever reported to law enforcement. Fonseca participated in thefts of catalytic converters from 103 vehicles over the course of 13 separate instances between Aug. 23, 2022 and Oct. 4, 2022 – most of which targeted vehicles in more than one municipality over the course of a single night.

According to court filings, there has been a precipitous decline in catalytic converter thefts reported in Massachusetts as a result of the April 2023 takedown – with only seven reported incidents of catalytic converter theft over the past 11 months following the arrests, in comparison to the hundreds of thefts reported during the nine-month period prior.

Catalytic converter theft has become a nationwide problem across the country due to the high-valued precious metals they contain – some of which are more valuable than gold, with black-market prices being more than $1,000 each in recent years. The theft of a vehicle's catalytic converter results in damage that renders the vehicle inoperable – both mechanically and legally under EPA regulations – until properly replaced. 

Fonseca was a member of a skilled, organized theft crew that utilized battery operated power-tools, car jacks to cut away and steal catalytic converters from vehicles across Massachusetts and into New Hampshire. The catalytic converter thefts were predicated upon the use of an internet application that provided real-time pricing for catalytic converters quantifying the commodity prices of the amounts of precious metal in a particular vehicle’s converter. Equipped with special knowledge of the values on the black market and technical skill with vehicles, the defendants targeted specific makes and models of vehicles to maximize the profits. The theft crew would travel hundreds of miles, hours on end in a single night, to specific locations, including home driveways and business parking lots where large numbers of these vehicles were located. On numerous occasions, the crew targeted more than 10 vehicles in a single night, with one night resulting in thefts from 26 vehicles. 

The thefts resulted in losses of approximately $5,000 per vehicle with certain trucks costing over $10,000 to repair. This amounts to an approximate $2 million in losses suffered by more than 300 separate victims who were forced to deal with their vehicles being disabled for potentially weeks on end. The more than 300 victims included businesses and individuals across Massachusetts and parts of New Hampshire, including a food pantry, automotive businesses, tradesmen, a bakery, single parents, a home healthcare provider and the elderly. Some businesses were repeatedly targeted on multiple nights.

Once in possession of the stolen catalytic converters, the crew would then sell them to Jose Torres, who would accumulate stolen catalytic converters from multiple theft crews and then in turn sell them to scrap dealers in the Northeast – transacting approximately $30,000 to $80,000 in stolen catalytic converters per week. In particular, Torres sold stolen catalytic converters to scrap dealers who have since been charged federally for interstate transportation of stolen property and money laundering in the District of Connecticut, the Eastern District of California and Northern District of Oklahoma.

Fonseca is the sixth defendant to plead guilty in the case. Torres pleaded guilty in May 2023 and scheduled to be sentenced on a later date. The crew’s alleged leader Rafael Davila has pleaded not guilty and remains pending trial.

The charge of conspiracy to transport stolen property in interstate commerce provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. The charges of interstate transportation of stolen property each provide for a sentence of up to 10 years, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.

Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy; Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; John E. Mawn Jr., Interim Colonel of the Massachusetts State Police; and Kevin Gallagher, Director of Operations for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Northeast Region made the announcement today. Valuable assistance was also provided by the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Districts of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Northern District of Oklahoma and the Eastern District of California; Homeland Security Investigations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office; and the New England State Police Information Network. Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip A. Mallard of the Organized Crime & Gang Unit is prosecuting the case.

Over 70 local police departments in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut contributed to this investigation through the submission of their investigations of catalytic converter thefts and burglaries in their jurisdiction. The Massachusetts Police Departments contributing to the investigation were Abington, Acton, Andover, Auburn, Bedford, Bellingham, Beverly, Billerica, Burlington, Bridgewater, Canton, Carver, Chelmsford, Concord, Cranston, East Hampton, Easton, Fitchburg, Framingham, Franklin, Gardner, Hampton, Hanover, Haverhill, Hingham, Holliston, Holyoke, Hudson, Ipswich, Lawrence, Leominster, Lynn, Malden, Mansfield, Maynard, Medford, Marlborough, Methuen, Middleton, Milford, Millbury, Needham, Newton, Northborough, Norwell, Norwood, Peabody, Pembroke, Plymouth, Randolph, Rockland, Sharon, Shrewsbury, Springfield, Sterling, Sturbridge, Sudbury, Tyngsborough, Walpole, Waltham, Watertown, West Bridgewater, Weymouth, Wilmington, Woburn and Worcester. The New Hampshire Police Departments contributing to the investigation were Bow, Concord, Derry, Hooksett, Hudson, Londonderry, Manchester, Salem and Windham. The South Windsor and Windsor Connecticut Police Departments also contributed to the investigation.

The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. The remaining defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated March 19, 2024