JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Twenty-seven people are now behind bars following recent arrests made in a catalytic converter theft ring.  

The Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, along with New Hanover and Pender counties, partnered up for “Operation Sawzall.” The organizations came together for a press conference Thursday morning to announce the arrests.

Onslow County Sheriff’s Office officials say just in the last four months, they have had 97 reported thefts of catalytic converters. They’re hoping with these criminals off the street – that number can start to trend down.  

Material inside of a catalytic converter. Photo by WNCT Reporter Cheyenne Pagan.

“Catalytic converters’ value comes from the materials contained inside, what is referred to as the honeycomb. This is the material that goes on the inside of the tank itself,” said Col. Chris Thomas with the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office. 

Criminals are taking advantage of this, targeting parked cars in the area and sawing the converter out.  

“Our detectives have been working diligently to try to follow up on the individuals who’ve been stealing these catalytic converters and we have made random arrests here and there of individuals that have been targeted or citizens,” said Thomas. 

(Arrests in Operation Sawzall, Onslow County Sheriff’s Office photos)

The thieves stole from active-duty marines, churches and businesses. 

“Each individual agency had been investigating their losses over the past year or so. Though, in sharing our information together, we created a team effort basically in February,” said Thomas. 

That team includes the Sheriff’s Offices in New Hanover and Pender counties. The Onslow County Sheriff’s Office highlighted Emerson Jordan, who they believe is a major suspect in these crimes. 

“These individuals would steal the catalytic converters, they would go to a middleman, which is most of them are on this chart. And that middle person would carry them to Mr. Jordan in Pender County, or New Hanover County and that’s when they would sell them to him,” said Thomas. 

All in all, 423 felony charges were brought to the 27 different conspirators, along with a continuing criminal enterprise charge. And 653 catalytic converters have been recovered so far in this ring. 

“A case like this, it’s impossible for one agency to do by themselves. The cooperation that we have with our federal sheriff’s offices, our federal and state agencies, is paramount for trying to get an operation like this done,” said Thomas.