Tung Tai Group, a San Jose metal scrapyard, was accused of being entangled in the sales of stolen catalytic converters, having allegedly fueled a surge in property crimes across the South Bay, and has now agreed to pay a settlement of only $2,500 to the city, according to a recent Mercury News article.
The scrapyard had been facing a shutdown order by the city since February 2022, and this settlement comes after the San Jose Police Department targeted the business in a massive undercover operation dubbed "Cat Scratch Thiever," which investigated catalytic converter theft rings; the operation led to the arrest of 15 suspects, the recovery of over 1,000 stolen catalytic converters, and over $50,000 in cash, according to the SJPD.
Joseph Chen, the owner of Tung Tai Group, faced a public nuisance shut-down order from the city starting in February 2022 and a parallel criminal investigation, which was eventually dropped because of insufficient evidence,the Mercury News reported. Chen, with a history of run-ins with law enforcement dating back to the late 2000s, recently came under scrutiny again when a stolen statue from a San Jose public park was found at his scrapyard in February.
Chen's attorney, Jim Roberts, denied any wrongdoing on behalf of his client on accusations involving stolen catalytic converters and the stolen statue in past interviews and declined to comment for the Mercury News article; as part of the settlement, however, Chen agreed to only purchase legally obtained catalytic converters and copper wire, and his name will be removed from San Jose Police Department's website and social media pages that advertised its "Cat Scratch Thiever" investigation, as the Mercury News notes.
In an emailed statement, City Attorney Nora Frimann stated that if Tung Tai Group violates any laws going forward, the city can pursue contempt of court charges, adding, "The City’s goal in most instances is gaining compliance with our codes and enjoining illegal actions or a nuisance, so this settlement achieves that goal," which you can read in the same Mercury News article.
Catalytic converter thefts have surged during the pandemic not only in San Jose but also in other cities across the country, becoming an increasingly lucrative crime for thieves due to the precious metals found inside the car parts, which can fetch up to $150 by selling on the black market; CBS News reported a total of 1,087 thefts in San Jose for 2021, a significant increase from the 84 reported in 2019, and 724 in 2020.
In light of the ongoing thefts, some officials and law enforcers have proposed countermeasures. In a more proactive approach, San Francisco's District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio launched a free program to etch vehicle ID numbers and paint SFPD logos on catalytic converters in an effort to deter thieves, as Hoodline reported last month. This new program builds on existing efforts by officials and police departments to curb catalytic converter theft.
Ultimately, while Tung Tai Group's $2,500 settlement may seem relatively small compared to the scale of the criminal activity they were accused of facilitating, it signals that efforts are being made to hold scrapyards and other businesses accountable for their role in this ongoing issue, and serves as a cautionary example for others who might be tempted to engage in similar activities.