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Newly signed laws strengthen penalties for catalytic converter thefts, sales and enterprises

Newly signed laws strengthen penalties for catalytic converter thefts, sales and enterprises

AXTON—Retired tobacco farmer Darrell Jackson thought brazen thefts of catalytic converters were limited to big cities. Then it happened to his farm truck that was parked at a friend’s auto repair shop in rural Henry County.

“The part we needed came in, they cranked it, and it sounded like a racecar,” he recalled. “Thieves had stolen the catalytic converter out from under it. The criminal might get $100, but I had to get an aftermarket one that cost $400.”

And some catalytic converters in larger work vehicles can cost thousands to replace.

Southside Virginia residents have suffered the widespread theft of catalytic converters from vehicles parked at homes, farms and businesses. Many victims in Henry County are glad that newly signed laws mean harsher penalties for those who steal, sell and buy the parts scrapped for the precious metals inside. This new legislation was sponsored by Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, and other lawmakers.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently signed the bills into law that, starting July 1, expands the definition of racketeering activities, greatly increases imprisonment and fines, imposes felonies, and makes the resale of catalytic converters illegal within Virginia and across state lines.

In previous years, punishment for petit larcenies like catalytic converter thefts had weakened, said Del. Wren Williams, R-Stuart, who serves the counties of Henry, Franklin and Patrick.

“If you steal one, you walk out with a misdemeanor and just do it again,” he said. “They’re being stolen in broad daylight—sometimes while being filmed—with no consequences. We haven’t slowed it down, because there were no teeth on the punishment.”

The issue was heard at the grassroots level long before it made its way to the governor’s desk.

“While the implications of the bill encompass more than stealing catalytic converters, it was brought forward by a Farm Bureau leader because the theft of these items is rampant in many parts of the commonwealth,” said Martha Moore, senior vice president of Virginia Farm Bureau Federation governmental relations.

Sen. William M. Stanley Jr., R-Glade Hill, said a colleague also had a converter stolen from an RV parked at a repair shop. He was co-patron of one of the bills that earned bipartisan favor.

“Thieves will go to scrap metal places every Monday with 10 or 12 in the back of a pickup,” Jackson explained. “Some scrappers will accept these from the same people over and over. But if you dry up the market, that will stop the thefts.”

As related bills tighten criminal charges, “what’s unique about my bill,” Williams said, “is that it hits crime syndicates or enterprises that are running catalytic converter theft rings.”

Media: Contact Jackson at 276-650-2303; Addison Merryman, office of Del. Williams, at 276-693-9024; or Moore at 804-290-1013.