4 Minnesota men face federal charges in $21M catalytic converter theft conspiracy

In total, the conspiracy yielded approximately $21 million in payments to the defendants.

catalytic converters
Catalytic converters (ISRI.org)

Four Minnesota men have been indicted for their roles in a multi-million dollar scheme to transport stolen catalytic converters across state lines, announced U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger on Tuesday.

According to charges, the four men participated in a conspiracy that involved thefts of catalytic converters from across the state of Minnesota from May 2020 through October 2022 and then transported them across state lines to buyers who paid large sums of money for the stolen car parts.

Charged are John Charles Kotten, 41, of Hutchinson, Justin Tyme Johnson, 32, of St. Paul, Soe Nye Moo, 31, of St. Paul, and James Dillon Jensen, 34, of Minneapolis. Court documents indicated that the four suspects and other unnamed individuals knowingly participated in a lucrative scheme in which they acquired stolen catalytic converters.

Catalytic converters are emission control devices that contain valuable, precious metals —including palladium, platinum, and rhodium — in their center or “core” to reduce the toxic gas and pollutants from a vehicle’s engine and filter them into safer emissions.

Court documents say that as part of the conspiracy, individuals who operated as street-level cutters stole catalytic converters from vehicles throughout the state of Minnesota and transferred them to Kotten or Johnson. At times, Kotten and Johnson met with cutters directly to buy stolen catalytic converters, other times they instructed cutters to transfer the catalytic converters to intermediary buyers acting on their behalf, such as Jensen and Moo. After receiving stolen catalytic converters, the defendants concealed and stored the inventory in preparation for shipment across state lines. After sorting, categorizing, and pricing out the anticipated loads, the defendants transported the stolen catalytic converters across state lines using rented U-Haul trailers and personal vehicles. Payments for the stolen catalytic converters were typically in the form of wire transfer, cash, check, or a combination thereof.

In order to conceal their scheme, Kotten and others purchased scrap or junk cars from individual sellers or at auction to make it appear as though they were involved in a legitimate automotive scrapping and recycling business in the event they were audited or investigated.

In total, the conspiracy yielded approximately $21 million in payments to the defendants, most of which came from a small number of high-volume buyers based in New Jersey, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New York.

The indictment charges Kotten, Johnson, Moo, and Jensen with conspiracy to transport stolen property interstate. Kotten and Johnson are charged with interstate transportation of stolen property, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and false statements to a financial institution. Johnson was also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering – concealment, and Moo was charged with possession of a machinegun. All four defendants made their initial appearances earlier this week in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Cowan Wright.

Federal authorities charged 21 people last fall in a catalytic converter theft ring that also involved Minnesota whose participants are accused of profiting over $545 million from the proceeds from the precious metals contained in the converters.

Locally, a new law was passed in Minnesota in the last legislative session increasing the penalties for being in possession of unattached catalytic converters without proper documentation of ownership up to felony-level charges for being in possession of multiple stolen converters. The new Minnesota law also added documentation requirements for scrap dealers that purchase converters. The law also requires scrap dealers to enter information into an electronic database and make information available to law enforcement.

U.S. Attorney Luger said the case is the result of a joint investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations, IRS – Criminal Investigations, Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau, Minnesota Department of Public Safety, St. Paul Police Department, Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, Blaine Police Department, Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office, Brown County Sheriff’s Office, Carver County Sheriff’s Office, Coon Rapids Police Department, Eagan Police Department, Fridley Police Department, McLeod County Sheriff’s Office, Montevideo Police Department, Plymouth Police Department, Roseville Police Department, and Sleepy Eye Police Department.

Booking photos of the suspects were not immediately available.

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.


Crime Watch MN

Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.