How one Central Florida city is cracking down on catalytic converter thefts

OCALA, Fla. — The Ocala Police Department is taking a new approach to reduce ongoing catalytic converter thefts.


The city, like many places across the country, has seen a huge increase in converters stolen from vehicles this year.

Catalytic converters are located along the exhaust system to turn toxic fumes from a car’s engine into less-harmful exhaust. Police said it can cost you up to $3,000 to install and replace one.

Investigators said thieves sell the parts to salvage yards and auto shops because of the expensive metals in them like platinum and palladium which can sell for thousands of dollars an ounce.

READ: Catalytic converter thefts impacting dozens of Central Florida drivers

Recently, police did an undercover operation targeting businesses that might be buying the stolen goods.

Already this year, thieves have stolen more than twice as many catalytic converters from underneath cars than they did by this same point in 2021.

Ocala police detective Fannie Ocasio said it’s “been a pretty big problem,” one that occurs “within a maybe one-to-three-minute period.”

READ: UCF police crack down on catalytic converter thefts with new initiative

During their undercover operation targeting recyclers and auto repair shops, police arrested Jessie Samaroo, owner of J&S Auto, after he paid cash to an undercover officer who told Samaroo he got them from a friend.

“He actually paid cash; you can’t do that,” said Ocala police Sgt. Melissa Buetti. “He did not verify where the person got the converter from, and then he did not keep accurate records.”

Channel 9 stopped by Samaroo’s shop. He said he’d never bought catalytic converters before.

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Samaroo said even though he has a metal recycling license, he said he didn’t know the rules, and was confused by the arrest.

“I’m not doing it anymore,” he said. “I don’t want to get in trouble with the law.”

Police are asking people who see suspicious activity around parking lots, especially at night, to call them. The thieves often target places where a lot of cars are parked so they can hit a bunch of them at once.

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Jeff Deal

Jeff Deal, WFTV.com

I joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in 2006.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.