Catalytic converter theft has proven particularly irritating for Oregon businesses that keep lots full of vehicles. Adam Ofstad would know.
He’s the owner of an auto repair shop in Scappoose. For the past two years, Ofstad has battled thieves who jack up cars and trucks on his lot to steal the valuable parts underneath.
These lots are easy pickings for catalytic converter thieves who supply the stolen contraband allegedly trafficked by the likes of Brennan Doyle and his associates. Several low-level thieves were indicted alongside Doyle, accused of supplying the stolen contraband that Doyle shipped to East Coast buyers.
One of those names was familiar to Ofstad: Jessie Hillard. Before being arrested in August by police in connection to Doyle’s catalytic converter theft ring, Hillard had snuck onto the lot at Pro Automotive & Diesel in 2021. The measures Ofstad took to catch him are a signal of the frustration Oregonians feel with property crimes.
Early in the pandemic, break-ins were an almost nightly occurrence at Pro Automotive. So Ofstad set up a 24-hour surveillance system. He and his employees were armed. “Many times it was hand-to-hand combat with these guys,” he tells WW.
But Ofstad soon discovered that Columbia County sheriff’s deputies and Scappoose police weren’t even on call some nights (they blamed their budgets). So Ofstad got the cellphone number of the sheriff, Brian Pixley, who promised to devote overtime to ensure deputies responded to thefts at Pro Automotive at all hours.
Just after 2 am on April 9, 2021, Ofstad was awakened by a Ring alarm. He drove to his shop, and watched from a distance as Hillard strolled through the lot.
A Scappoose police officer and a sheriff’s deputy soon arrived to arrest Hillard. When asked why he was in Ofstad’s lot, Hillard said he was “taking a piss.” The deputy found a glass pipe and what looked like meth in Hillard’s pocket, as well as a pair of Sawzall blades. Police searched his truck and found “jiggle keys,” several saws and a floor jack.
Hillard was charged with attempted theft. He pleaded not guilty and posted bail. His trial is set for February.
In the meantime, Beaverton police say, Hillard was selling stolen catalytic converters to one of Doyle’s major suppliers, Tanner Hellbusch.
Hillard was pulled over this summer after selling a load of stolen parts to Hellbusch, police say. They found saws and floor jacks in the back of his truck. He was charged with racketeering Aug. 1.
Still, Hillard managed to avoid jail—until he was caught by police Nov. 7 while sneaking into a window of a house in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood of Southeast Portland.
He was carrying a fake New York state identification card that he’d “paid a lot of money for” and was using to “avoid being caught on his warrants,” he told the arresting officer.
This time, he remains in custody.
Meanwhile, says Ofstad, his proactive approach to thefts on his property has borne fruit. More than a dozen people have been arrested attempting to steal from his shop, he says.
“The word is out. Nobody goes and steals cats from Pro anymore.”