Two Fort Myers men posing as towing company workers are charged in the thefts of catalytic converters in Charlotte County as law enforcement in three Southwest Florida counties report similar thefts.
Charlotte County deputies say Andy Manuh Flores Herrera, 25, and Yordan Carreras Cespedes, 33, confessed to multiple thefts and selling the devices.
Scores of Southwest Florida vehicle owners have reported thefts of the converters during the past two years, records indicate, with thefts in Charlotte County ramping up in September.
The thefts are linked to the fact that the precious metals used in the devices — rhodium, palladium, and platinum act as a catalyst to transform pollutants into carbon dioxide and water — can bring in upward of $500 for recycling, Cars.com reports.
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Charlotte County deputies responded to a business on Tamiami trail in south Punta Gorda on May 23. Investigators determined that the catalytic converter was cut and removed from a Ford Excursion.
Surveillance footage showed a Dodge Ram 4500 tow truck pull into the parking lot. While one suspect looked under the Excursion, the other acted as a lookout, deputies said. The theft took about 5 minutes.
Investigators discovered the tow truck, marked as Kings Towing, was not property of any legitimate business and the operators used it as a façade to crimes during the day without drawing suspicion.
Deputies throughout Charlotte and surrounding counties were on high alert for the truck. On June 22, road patrol deputies spotted it on Interstate 75 near mile marker 170.
Yordan provided deputies with a fraudulent business card stating he owned and operated Y & S Towing, deputies said. Investigators said neither Kings Towing or Y & S Towing are legitimate.
Investigators said they interviewed the men and at least one of them confessed. They arrested both men and took them to the Charlotte County Jail.
Charlotte County did not say if the men are linked to thefts in Collier and Lee counties.
In Lee County, a prominent theft involved the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades, and Okeechobee Counties’ Gifts in Kind delivery truck in May. The theft sidelined some of the agency’s work for several weeks because the replacement converter was back-ordered.
United Way used the box truck to deliver food and clothing to those in need.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office issued a warning Wednesday, saying law enforcement locally is seeing an increase in the number of thefts and offered tips for prevention.
►Park in well-lit areas, close to security cameras.
►Ask neighboring businesses and individuals to be aware and report suspicious activity.
►Consider buying after-market devices that protect the converter.
► Consider placing permanently affixed, identifying markers on the part.
In the Charlotte County theft, Cespedes faces five charges including failure to have liability insurance, property theft, and burglary.
Herrera faces four charges, including theft, burglary and dealing in stolen property.