By Savannah Eadens
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PORTLAND, Ore. — A months-long investigation by the Beaverton Police Department may have completely dismantled a local organized crime ring responsible for a large portion of catalytic converter thefts up and down the West Coast, police said Thursday.
Two alleged ringleaders and at least 12 of their suspected accomplices were indicted July 29 by a Washington County grand jury on dozens of aggravated theft, racketeering and money laundering charges.
The investigation began in late 2021 when detectives said Tanner Lee Hellbusch, 32, of Beaverton, was running an illegal fencing operation by posing as a legitimate business buying and selling catalytic converters. In March, police said they pulled over Hellbusch with more than 100 stolen catalytic converters, worth about $80,000 on the black market.
Hellbusch’s arrest led detectives to the person they believe is the top of the crime enterprise: Brennan Patrick Doyle, 32, of Lake Oswego.
The investigation came to a head in late July when police searched eight locations, including a rented lakefront house in Lake Oswego, where they arrested Doyle and said they found 3,000 catalytic converters, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, a high-end car and jewelry.
Doyle, Hellbusch and the 12 other not-yet-publicly-named defendants are accused of trafficking more than 44,000 stolen catalytic converters with an estimated street value of more than $22 million since January.
“The defendants in this case were living a nice life,” said Officer Matt Henderson, a spokesperson for Beaverton police, at a Thursday press conference.
Police said Doyle’s organization was capitalizing on the increased price of heavy metals such as rhodium, platinum and palladium found in catalytic converters, which cleanse gas emissions and reduce pollution.
Rhodium, for example, is currently valued at over $14,000 an ounce. A standard catalytic converter has just a few grams of precious metals. While an intact catalytic converter is typically sold for $150 to $300 cash on the black market, police estimate that once the metal is extracted at a refinery, it’s worth about $800.
Because catalytic converters don’t have identifying numbers, they aren’t traceable. So it’s impossible to know how many of the recovered converters came from cars in Oregon, Henderson said.
Police officials said the organized crime ring was centered in the Portland area but also spanned six Oregon counties and Washington, Nevada, California, Texas and New York.
[PODCAST: Investigating trends in catalytic converter thefts]
The crime ring shipped large boxes of converters to the East Coast and internationally, Henderson said. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people may have been involved in the operation, he added, but declined to share more details in the ongoing investigation as detectives are still gathering evidence.
“This business was turning millions of dollars worth of profit in catalytic converters,” Henderson said. “You need an organization and multiple people to do that.”
At least 1,000 catalytic converters from the sting are sitting in evidence boxes at Beaverton Police Department’s garage. Henderson said the department is brainstorming how to get the money from those converters back to the community.
Henderson said dozens of law enforcement officers from several local agencies spent thousands of hours on this case. Over the months, they were constantly weighing the “risk and reward” of continuing the investigation and building a case while Doyle and his associates allegedly kept raking in money.
“They reached a point in their investigation where they’re confident that they could take off a portion of the organization,” Henderson said.
Beaverton’s interim Police Chief Stacy Jepson said she hoped the work of investigators in her department will provide a blueprint to other law enforcement agencies locally and nationally.
“Patience has allowed us to take this organization down instead of just scratching the surface,” Jepson said.
[PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Police struggle to deter rising catalytic converter thefts]
Court documents show Doyle was operating under a limited liability company in his name.
Doyle had no previous criminal record in Oregon. In the stolen catalytic converter indictment, he’s been charged with 69 counts of aggravated theft.
Beaverton police arrested Hellbusch last summer for trespassing and he was found guilty in a misdemeanor charge for being in possession of a burglary tool. He’s been convicted three times in Multnomah County in the past decade for driving while impaired and was arrested on several occasions for driving with a revoked or suspended license.
Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton said the investigation marks a significant success in stopping “quality of life” crimes, which often “disproportionately negatively impact the financially vulnerable and historically marginalized as they strain resources in both small businesses and families.”
Barton said safety comes when people live without fear: “That means feeling safe when you walk down the street, knowing your kids will be safe when you drop them off at school and believing that when you park your car, it will be there when you get back with its catalytic converter.”
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