The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office on Wednesday announced that 35-year-old Dereck Conant pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful use of a motor vehicle for stealing the catalytic converter from a Prius parked at the Multnomah County Library's Albina branch in November.
A judge on Tuesday sentenced Conant to 366 days in prison. He also agreed to pay $1,000 in restitution to the victim, court records show.
The district attorney's office said Wednesday that Conant might represent the first conviction an Oregon prosecutor's office has secured by applying the charge of unlawful use of a motor vehicle to a suspect who jacked up a parked vehicle to steal its catalytic converter. The announcement comes amid a yearlong spate of catalytic converter thefts, which state lawmakers are trying to prevent by largely banning their resale.
Library surveillance footage shows a white sedan pull into the parking lot next to the Prius at about 4:19 pm. The footage then shows two white men appearing to crouch down around the vehicle, according to a probable cause affidavit.
At about 4:37 pm, court records say, the Prius appears to be lifted by a floor jack. Two minutes later, it is lowered down again and the two men leave the parking lot.
Days later, Portland police located the white vehicle and arrested Conant, court records say. When police searched the vehicle, prosecutors say, they located the floor jack in the back seat. Police also searched Conant's truck, where they located other equipment, including a jigsaw and a hacksaw, prosecutors say.
The theft of catalytic converters isn't unique to Portland. The New York Times reported in February that police nationwide are reporting a surge in thefts of catalytic converters, which can sell for several hundred dollars.
Priuses in particular are targeted for this type of theft: "Toyota Prius converters also fetch a higher price because their gasoline engines aren't in as much use, and so it can take longer for the car to burn out the precious metals," the Times reported.
State legislators are trying to curb the theft of catalytic converters. Senate Bill 803 would prohibit scrap metal businesses for buying catalytic converters from anyone besides commercial sellers.
The bill was introduced at the request of Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, who testified in support of SB 803 earlier this month.
"The theft of these devices can happen so quickly. The risk of apprehension is often very low yet the cash return for thieves is significant," Schmidt testified. "This has created an exploding black and gray market for stolen catalytic converters that is driving significant losses to Oregon businesses and vehicle owners across the state."