A police investigation dubbed “Operation Hot Pipe” busted a West Side recycling center where authorities claim hundreds of stolen catalytic converters were bought and resold.
Felipe Gomez, owner of Gomez Recycling Inc., and five of his employees were arrested Wednesday after a search about noon of the business in the 4600 block of West Chicago, according to Chicago Police and Cook County prosecutors.
The arrests come after Gomez Recycling illegally purchased hundreds of catalytic converters during more than a dozen transactions with undercover officers, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office said.
The devices control emissions on vehicles and contain precious metals, including platinum. Thieves can quickly steal and resell them for cash, while victims are typically stuck with a $1,000 bill to replace them.
Prosecutors claim Gomez and his employees paid “significant amounts” of cash every day to purchase stolen auto parts, and specifically catalytic converters. They resold them at a profit on the secondary market, authorities claim.
Authorities also seized more than $300,000 in cash and two vehicles during Wednesday’s bust, police said.
Gomez, 47, of Chicago, is charged with organizing and continuing a financial crimes enterprise, as well as felony theft, according to the state’s attorney’s office.
Five employees are also charged with felony theft and continuing a financial crimes enterprise. They include Chicago residents Ana Gomez-Quintanilla, 26; Osmar Gonzalez, 30; and Gerry Robertson, 46; and Cicero residents Raul Ledesma, 33, and Jose Valentin Portillo, 26.
Gomez was ordered held on a $150,000 bond at a hearing Thursday, while Robertson was held on a $75,000 bond, according to the state’s attorney’s office. The other four were released on their own recognizance. All six defendants will next appear in court April 23 for a preliminary hearing.
Police from Chicago and Schaumburg, as investigators from the National Insurance Crime Bureau and state’s attorney’s office took part in the investigation.