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Butler County prosecutor dubious about proposed Hamilton theft ordinance

Prosecutor doubts it will make a difference
Report: Ohio 4th in country in catalytic converter thefts
Posted at 5:45 PM, Oct 06, 2021

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser isn’t optimistic that Hamilton’s proposed ordinance against catalytic-converter theft will make much of a difference in curbing the crime.

“This is a real problem in Butler County,” Gmoser said. “Every shop, it seems, in town has a waiting list of people that need catalytic converters for their cars.”

He agrees such thefts are a costly problem for vehicle owners, and a large annoyance, but doesn’t think the ordinance expected to receive second and final consideration next week will be very helpful. The restrictions on licensed scrap dealers will do nothing to stop people from selling converters, not legitimate dealers here, but people from other states, like Indiana, who won’t get licenses to become scrap-metal dealers, Gmoser said.

Gmoser said he visited Cohen Recycling, the major recycling facility in Butler County, “and asked them what their processes were about catalytic converters. Their response basically was this: ‘We don’t like ’em, because there is a lot of concern about these being stolen, and we do take pictures, we do take names, we do make reports. We do all of this stuff, and we don’t pay much for converters, because of the problems involved with them,’ ” he said.

Gmoser, Hamilton police and the Butler County sheriff’s office all emphasized that Cohen is very helpful to them.

Gmoser noted that he and Sheriff Richard Jones recently together offered a $1,000 reward, with half coming from each agency, for information leading to the arrest and convictions of converter thieves.

Gmoser said he studied the issue for the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association because state legislation was being proposed, and “we made a few suggestions,” including by Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh. “We thought a lot of her proposal, and not as much of the proposal that the legislators had.”

“They come in from Indiana, for some reason,” Gmoser said. “Indiana seems to be a big receiver. The cartel comes in from Indiana and they let the thieves know that they’re going to be in an area a certain date, a given time, and these people that are out there scouring the countryside for cars that are out there in quiet places that they can have quick access to with their battery-operated saws. And they can take off a catalytic converter in less than 3 minutes.”

“And they never end up in the hands of the legitimate scrapyards,” Gmoser said.

Hamilton’s proposed ordinance would make it a fourth-degree misdemeanor — punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and as much as a year in jail — to possess or sell a stolen catalytic converter, for each vehicle emission device involved.

Gmoser said he believes Hamilton’s proposed ordinance may bring about “the law of unintended consequences”: “When you put these requirements on a scrap dealer — a legitimate guy — his answer is, ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I don’t need the trouble.’ ”

“So it drives the criminals out of the scrap yards, where there’s some opportunity to at least see who’s involved with this stuff,” Gmoser said. “It puts them out there in the boonies, where the thieves are coming in and buying them in bulk, and the only time we ever catch them, then, is when they get arrested and the police officer impounds the car, opens up the trunk and there’s 16 catalytic converters in the trunk. They’re not getting them at Cohen’s scrap yard.”

He suggested the city instead offer rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people involved with such thefts, and toughening the penalties for doing so.

“When they have more to lose than they have to gain from the enterprise that they’re in, that may slow them down,” Gmoser said. “But making it more difficult for a scrap yard to receive them, they don’t like ’em. They’re not making that much off of these things in the first place, and they would rather not have the headache of all the paperwork, so it just drives the thieves away from them.”

Major Mike Craft, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said thefts of the devices have decreased in recent weeks after Jones and Gmoser offered matching rewards for identifying criminals.

“I can assure you there was a decrease,” Craft said. “There was an uptick for a while.”

He agreed with Gmoser that “our salvage yards here in Butler County do a pretty good job of documentation,” and also help police agencies. “And the rumor has it there’s no restrictions or limitations in Indiana. That’s where most of them from this area were going.”

“We do have some long-term investigations going on right now, but naturally, I can’t comment on any of that,” Craft said.