The theft of catalytic converters has been on the rise across the country, with thieves targeting the converters for the valuable precious metals they contain. As Mini-Storage Messenger has reported in the past, self-storage facilities are often prime targets for these thieves, who may break in and cut the converters off stored vehicles or rent units as tenants in order to gain even easier access. While this recent bust in New York may make other would-be thieves think twice about stealing catalytic converters, not all self-storage owners were offering their congratulations.
Ring Of Thieves
On May 12, two brothers, Alan and Andrew Pawelsky, along with co-conspirator Jovanie Clarke, were arrested and charged in an 81-count indictment alleging they engaged in a black-market catalytic converter trafficking operation. Officials estimate that the trio of thieves netted around $170 million between 2021 and 2022. The stolen catalytic converters came from numerous states, including California, Connecticut, Minnesota, and New York.
After the precious rhodium, palladium, and platinum metals were extracted, Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly alleges that the brothers sent them off to refineries to be separated, weighed, and appraised (while all three are valuable, rhodium alone has an estimated value of $7,500 per ounce; for comparison, gold is worth just $2,000 per ounce). Next, Donnelly says the money was wired to Alan’s company, Ace Auto Recycling. The tools used to extract the precious metals were also recovered from the company grounds.
All three men will face the judge in court on June 1. If convicted, the brothers are looking at 25 years in prison for charges including first- and second-degree money laundering; second-, third-, and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property; and fourth-degree conspiracy. Clarke faces up to seven years in prison for charges of third-degree grand larceny, third- and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, second-degree auto stripping, second-degree criminal mischief, and possession of burglar tools.
“Not only are catalytic converter thefts extremely costly to victims, but oftentimes these types of crimes fund larger criminal enterprises that put the community and country at a greater risk,” says Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent Ivan J. Arvelo. “Today’s arrests of brothers Alan Pawelsky and Andrew Pawelsky, as well as their alleged co-conspirator, demonstrates that HSI remains committed to leveraging our capabilities with our local law enforcement partners to bring these criminals, as delineated in the grand jury indictment, to justice.”
Self Storage Owners React to the News
Carol Mixon, who owns SkilCheck Services and serves as the secretary of the Arizona Self-Storage Association, and Whitney Jurjevich, owner of Ameripark Covered Storage, have both experienced catalytic converter theft at their facilities in the past, and we spoke with them in 2021.
At the time, Mixon told us that some tenants would rent a small space, come on site, and bring someone to the RV area to steal the catalytic converters. Then, they could easily store the converters in their units and remove them later. Others simply throw a rug over a facility’s barbed wire fence and jump it during the night.
We followed up with Mixon to inform her of the bust. “Awesome,” she says. “That’s some really good news.”
She reports that catalytic converter theft has continued to be a problem for some of her clients, with thieves targeting U-Haul rental trucks, cars, and RVs at their storage facilities. “Hopefully this bust will deter some thieves, but managers still need to be vigilant. With the trend toward remote-managed facilities, I worry this could become a bigger problem. You really need cameras and on-site surveillance, because these thieves can be in and out in about two minutes.”
“At one facility, there was extra office space,” says Mixon. “I offered it up to local police, giving them an access key and setting up a coffee station. They come in to take a break, fill out reports … having their vehicles there throughout the week, even intermittently, is a great deterrent.” She didn’t stop there, however. “I have a couple of Dobermans. I even put them out at a property that had been a target. That solved the problem really fast,” she laughs.
Jurjevich, who is also a former police officer, told us in 2021 that an operator’s vigilance is the best protection against the thefts. He echoed Mixon’s sentiments, saying that newer technology systems with cameras, audio systems, and motion detectors, combined with facility managers or other employees on patrol, would be the best form of defense. He also noted that his company sells protection plans or damage waivers to tenants, distinct from insurance coverage, so they’re not liable for full replacement.
When we followed up with Jurjevich, he was less than impressed with the trafficking bust. “I see nothing here worthy of celebrations or congratulations, and I say this as a retired Police Officer and a full supporter of police and first responders. This is not their fault, it is the fault of total incompetent leadership at the political level.”
Jurjevich says that he’s had renters fall victim to these types of crimes multiple times over the course of a month or two, but that police aren’t available to respond when the crime is in progress, let alone conduct a follow up investigation.
“The only time it gets addressed is when it becomes so massive, it’s literally in your face,” elaborates Jurjevich. “Leadership allowed crime in general to get so out of control that two brothers in NYC – where there is no shortage of local, state, and federal officers, task forces, and investigators – could grow this business and bring in $170 million.”
He does some quick math based on the catalytic converters scrap value and replacement costs, including parts and labor, and notes that the actual damages to the public would likely be much worse than the number being reported. “Is it possible we’re actually talking about $2.04 billion in damages?”
Jurjevich says that there is no reason the crime should have ever reached this level before it was uncovered and stopped in the communities the thefts occurred. “These brothers were so unconcerned about the consequences they grew beyond greedy and took it to a size so large in scope it was likely not very difficult to detect or prove it. This should’ve been stopped at the street level, long before it grew this large, by police officers willing and able to do the enforcement and prosecutors willing and able to prosecute, and neither of them are these days for myriad reasons.”
Concludes Jurjevich, “The taxpayers were failed yet again and frankly the leaders should all be embarrassed.”
In 2021, Mixon and Jurjevich put together a catalytic converter theft webinar which is still available to view online.