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Catalytic Converter Theft Suspects Met in Treatment

The men met in a drug-treatment program and then teamed up to cut catalytic converters from vehicles around the metro area and scrap them for money, say charges filed against them Wednesday, May 1.

Gabriel Jordan Olson, 30, and Ronald Leroy Olson, 26, sold more than 90 catalytic converters for $8,762 between Sept. 1 and Jan. 31 in Ramsey, Anoka and Washington counties, according to criminal complaints filed in Ramsey County District Court. Police have said the damage caused to vehicles they targeted was at least $120,000.

Bills at the state Capitol this session would make it harder for thieves to scrap stolen cars and auto parts, such as catalytic converters, said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.

One part of the proposed legislation would require an automated-property system for scrap and auto parts dealers for cars and scrap metal, including catalytic converters. If that system had been in place for this case, the St. Paul police sergeant working on it, Charlie Anderson, estimated it would have cut 40 to 80 hours of investigative time, Choi said.

"I think a lot of credit should go to the investigator; he worked really hard to gather this information, but he did it by having to interview people," Choi said. "A lot of the information could have been found through the automated-pawn system, if it was in place."

The criminal complaints against the Olsons, who are not related, give the following accounts:

In January and February, several Twin Cities police agencies were investigating daytime thefts of catalytic converters.

Many catalytic converters were stolen from large-frame foreign vehicles; Toyotas often were targeted. It's easier to get under large-frame vehicles to cut out catalytic converters, the converters are larger in Toyotas and the foreign models have more platinum, which makes them more valuable, Anderson has said. Catalytic converters remove pollutants before they travel out the tailpipe.

On Jan. 29, a man returned to his Toyota Tacoma in St. Paul and saw a "disheveled" man emerge from under his vehicle. The man quickly walked to a black Chevrolet Monte Carlo parked next to it, put something in the trunk and left. The Toyota's owner discovered a cut near his catalytic converter.

On Feb. 1, Rogers police stopped a black Monte Carlo reportedly involved in a "car prowling incident" and identified Ronald Olson as the driver and Gabriel Olson as the passenger.

Police found a battery-operated reciprocating saw on the floor behind the driver's seat, along with a catalytic converter and cut-up pieces of exhaust pipe in the trunk. Officers learned of a recent catalytic-converter theft in the area and arrested the men.

Video from the back of the squad showed the men discussing the incident. "Gabriel Olson said, 'This is our first time,' and winked at Ronald Olson," the complaint said.

Meanwhile, St. Paul police Sgt. Jim Gray had talked to a scrap metal recycling company and learned the business had barred the Olsons because they suspected them of bringing in stolen catalytic converters. They said the men drove a black Monte Carlo.

On Feb. 8, police executed a search warrant at Ronald Olson's Elk River home and recovered cut exhaust pipes on the garage floor. His mother told police that Gabriel Olson, address unknown, had been a negative influence on her son and that Ronald Olson told her they were using drugs and stealing catalytic converters.

Ronald Olson said he and Gabriel Olson had gone out about 10 times in the previous month to steal catalytic converters and had begun stealing them around Christmas. He said he had been the driver and acted as the lookout. He described locations where the thefts occurred, including St. Paul, Minneapolis, New Brighton, Bloomington and Richfield.

The Ramsey County attorney's office charged both men with aiding and abetting possession of stolen property, and aiding and abetting possession of burglary or theft tools. There is a warrant for Gabriel Olson's arrest; Ronald Olson is scheduled to make his first court appearance May 20.

Neither Olson could be reached for comment Wednesday.