Beaverton Police Nab $22 Million Catalytic Converter Trafficking Ring

The Washington County district attorney took shots at Portland’s failure to address a property crime wave in a press conference on Thursday.

OUTBACK STAKEOUT: Hondas and Subarus are the most commonly stolen vehicles in Portland, according to police. (Sam Gehrke)

Brendan Doyle was living the high life this summer in a rented house on the shores of Lake Oswego.

Until the cops busted in. They found a fancy car, jewelry, and hundreds and thousands of dollars in cash. Police say the goodies had been amassed thanks to Doyle’s new business: fencing catalytic converters.

He and an associate, Tanner Hellbusch, are the alleged ringleaders of a $22 million operation, trafficking 44,000 catalytic converters from thieves in the Pacific Northwest to metal recyclers on the East Coast, Washington County prosecutors allege.

Beaverton police took the lead in the nearly yearlong investigation into the six-state crime ring. Hellbusch was pulled over by police in March as he was transporting more than 100 allegedly stolen catalytic converters worth $80,000.

The indictment names 14 other alleged members of the conspiracy. Not all of them have been caught, a spokesman for the Beaverton police said.

These latest arrests will put a “significant dent” in a problem that has plagued the metro area in recent years, he added.

In a press conference on Thursday, Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton used the opportunity to take shots at Portland—which has been similarly victimized by a surge in catalytic converter thefts.

“We have seen what happens when public safety systems do not prioritize quality-of-life crimes,” Barton said. “In Washington County, we reject that approach.”

In Multnomah County, District Attorney Mike Schmidt was elected handily on a platform that included focusing on violent crime rather than “nonviolent, low-level cases.” (For his part, Barton has twice defeated reform-minded challengers running to his left.)

Meanwhile, the Portland Police Bureau’s auto theft division was disbanded in 2006 due to budget cuts. Blaming staffing cuts, a bureau spokesman told WW last year that an officer investigating a stolen car case is “extremely rare.” Responding to WW’s inquiries about skyrocketing car-theft rates in December, Sgt. Kevin Allen added: “The true question is, where do you take those resources from? Rape? Robbery? Homicide?”

Both Hellbusch and Doyle have been charged with racketeering, money laundering, and dozens of counts of theft.

Catalytic converter theft is rampant across the country, increasing nearly 300% in 2021, according to national reports. The problem has coincided with a rise in the price of the raw metals contained in the devices. The market price of rhodium, one of those metals, has quadrupled in the last three years.

And it’s hard for police to investigate the thefts. The devices are untraceable and easily stolen by thieves, said Officer Matt Henderson, spokesman for the Beaverton Police Department.

“They can be in and out in 30 seconds to two minutes, like a NASCAR pit crew,” he said.

He promised that these arrests were just the beginning. The Washington County investigation is ongoing.

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