Catalytic converter theft rampant in Lee County

Kendall Tackitt

Wise people are blessed with good judgement. To obtain wisdom, they first must gather knowledge and apply that knowledge to make the right decisions.

That doesn’t happen much in the criminal world. Now there are lawbreakers at the very top of the chain who fare pretty well for awhile.

That’s the gig with catalytic converters. The top end are looking for the key precious metals — platinum, palladium or rhodium. For space purposes, let’s look at rhodium.

In early 2020, the price of rhodium surged by as much as 55 percent. One ounce of rhodium is currently worth more than 10 times an ounce of gold.

Rhodium is trading at about $18,000 an ounce.

Do these local criminals know that? It’s doubtful. These bottom feeders use the money to satisfy their drug habits — and their cut is way, way smaller than that ounce price.

“They steal them (catalytic converters) for the various parts people are buying them for. There is this certain group who are giving them a good bit of money for them. That person collects them in bulk and then sells them to a bigger buyer,” said Lee County Sheriff’s Department deputy Marius McKinnon. “Pawn shops are buying them.”

“Here’s what you got to think about ... the contents that are in the catalytic converters is what gives it value. Any reasonable person would know if a 25-year-old female walked into your business and has a muffler that’s cut off and wants to sell it, that there is something fishy about this picture,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson. “But that’s what is happening. There’s nothing regulating these people from buying these catalytic converters. If a legitimate business wants to buy these things they can.”

Between the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and six surrounding law enforcement agencies there have been over a hundred thefts during July and August.

According to officers it takes less than a minute to steal a catalytic converter if you have the right tools.

One of those tools is a sawzall. It’s a common reciprocating saw used by construction workers every day.

“They don’t have to get inside the vehicle, they just basically cut the muffler off and if there’s one parked on the side of the road, that’s their big target,” Johnson said. “Abandoned vehicles and car lots.”

Kendall Tackitt, of Guntown, who has been a guest in the Lee County Jail since Aug. 14, 2021 has been connected to the catalytic converter thefts. Tackitt, 31, is currently serving time for a couple of grand larcenies and a felony charge for taking of a motor vehicle.

“He’s in here on those charges and the sheriff got with us, so we got to talking to Tackitt about the catalytic converters. With that leverage he got to telling us things,” McKinnon said.

“When he stole that vehicle, the catalytic converter had been taken off it,” Johnson said. “You’ve got so many people involved. You’ll catch two or three and one of them may be the driver, the other one may be the spotter, the other one may be the cutter and the other one may be the one that takes it to the business and someone else may be suppling the tools.”

There are mini-groups like this operating in Lee County, and the other surrounding counties. Law enforcement catch most at traffic stops, find them with narcotics but also with a sawzall or a muffler. Some talk. Some don’t, but all of this theft is drug related.

Other names the sheriff could release were Corey Guin, Crystal Johnson, Brittany Tutor, Andrew McClung and Austin Vanover. These five aren’t necessarily connected to Tackitt, but all have played various roles in the catalytic converter mess.

“They may not directly charged with catalytic converter theft but they are all connected, and there’s still a bunch out there,” Johnson said. “From my understanding the catalytic converter theft is supplying the money for them to buy the drugs (mostly crystal Methamphetamine).”

These little gangs are sophisticated, have some knowledge, in a way — they do work together, communicate with walkie-talkies and have a plan.

However, any knowledge they have will never become wisdom because after they make $300 (an average price for a catalytic converter), they don’t put that money back into their illegal business — they get high and then they have to steal again to chase a higher, high which will never come.

If you have more information, related to this case please call the LCSD at (662) 432-2600.

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