Two Sacramento men have been convicted in Yolo County for stealing dozens of catalytic converters from vehicles in eight counties throughout Northern California, prosecutors said.
Dao Xiong, 44, and Shaneel Lal, 38, during the day scouted neighborhoods for targets in Yolo, Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado, Napa, Butte, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, returning after dark to sever the catalytic converter from the vehicle, according to a news release Wednesday from the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.
Xiong and Lal stole 64 catalytic converters from Sept. 17, 2020, through Feb. 2, some of them while they were out on bail before they were arrested again earlier this year in Davis, prosecutors said. Authorities estimate the thefts resulted in losses of $100,000, but the total amount was still being determined.
A catalytic converter is part of a vehicle’s exhaust system and contains metals, such as platinum, gold, rhodium and palladium, that have high value in the recycling market. Prosecutors said replacing a catalytic converter can cost theft victims $1,000 to $3,000, often taking weeks or months for an automotive repair shop to find the right part.
The investigation into Xiong and Lal began in September 2020, when a Davis resident reported to police his catalytic converter was stolen from his Toyota Prius. Detectives with the Davis Police Department’s Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving Unit launched an investigation.
The detectives obtained security camera video that helped identify the suspect vehicle. Prosecutors said the detectives used surveillance and help from the Folsom Police Department to identify Xiong and Lal as the suspects in the catalytic converter theft.
Surveillance captures ‘scouting’ trips
The investigators monitored Xiong and Lal as they traveled to multiple counties with Xiong as the driver and Lal as the passenger. Electronic surveillance revealed Xiong and Lal appeared to be “scouting” neighborhoods during the day or early evening, before returning late at night or early morning, according to the District Attorney’s Office. The surveillance data matched the location and time frame of catalytic converter thefts reported to local law enforcement agencies.
Prosecutors said Davis police officers pulled over Xiong and Lal on Oct. 23, 2020, and found them with catalytic converters believed to have been stolen in Napa County.
The District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against Xiong and Lal. Prosecutors said the California judicial “zero bail” policy at the time to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in jails led to Xiong and Lal being released from custody pending prosecution.
After getting out of jail, Xiong and Lal continued to steal catalytic converters until Feb. 2, when they were arrested again by Davis police at Thunder Valley Casino in Placer County, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
They were arrested after Davis police detectives served search warrants as part of their five-month investigation. Lal and Xiong were booked at the Yolo County Jail with their bail set at $250,000 each.
Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Matt DeMoura prosecuted the case against Xiong and Lal for the thefts in eight counties. Initially, the defendants faced more than 60 counts of grand theft.
The criminal case ended for the defendants Tuesday with a plea deal with prosecutors. Xiong and Lal were each convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit a felony and eight counts of grand theft for stealing the catalytic converters, according to Yolo Superior Court records. Xiong pleaded guilty to the charges, and Lal pleaded no contest.
Xiong and Lal are scheduled to return to court Jan. 10, when Superior Court Judge Timothy Fall is expected to sentence each defendant to six years in jail in accordance with the plea agreement.