$11 million earned, 55,000 victims: Five years prison sentence for Kansas City man involved in catalytic converters thefts

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Kansas City, Missouri – A man known as the main person behind catalytic converter thefts in Kansas City got a five-year jail sentence on Wednesday. He also has to give up $4.4 million that he made illegally.

James Spick, 58, was involved in buying many stolen catalytic converters through his shop, J&J Recycling, located on Truman Road in Independence, Missouri. An Assistant U.S. Attorney, Kate Mahoney, said in court during Spick’s sentencing that he played a big role in a criminal network.

James Spick pleaded guilty in July

In July, Spick admitted guilt to a charge of plotting to move stolen goods across state lines. He told police that sometimes he would spend up to $20,000 a day to buy catalytic converters, always paying in cash.

“By paying in cash with basically no questions asked, Mr. Spick’s entire business model attracted, encouraged, and incentivized thieves and particularly drug addicts,” the U.S. Attorney wrote in its sentencing memo.

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According to the government, between 2018 and 2021, Spick made $11 million, much of it in cash from two companies outside his state. The government claimed in court papers that Spick sold to companies who profited from selling the valuable metals taken from the catalytic converters but didn’t deal directly with the thieves.

One of these companies was PGM of Texas, a major name in recycling. From 2018 to 2021, they paid Spick over $3.3 million, with $2.6 million, or 78%, in cash.

In 2018, PGM opened a location in Lee’s Summit, with a sign stating they buy catalytic converters. That year, prices for rhodium, palladium, and platinum – the valuable metals in catalytic converters – started going up. Missouri State Highway Patrol investigator Cpl. Nate Bradley noted that this price rise was due to supply and demand.

In 2021, Bradley and a detective from the Olathe Police Department discovered 11 new catalytic converters at PGM in Lee’s Summit. They thought these were stolen from trucks at a car dealership in Olathe. When asked if PGM knew these were stolen, Bradley questioned how they could not have known.

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Heather Wood, PGM’s compliance manager wouldn’t answer questions about why the company opened a shop in Lee’s Summit or why it paid Spick $2.6 million in cash. “Respectfully, we decline to comment to reporters,” she told KCUR.

James Spick, 58, known as the main person behind catalytic converter thefts in Kansas City got a five-year prison sentence

But the company has spoken out about catalytic converter theft before. Last June, PGM celebrated passage of a law in Texas that increased penalties for catalytic converter thieves and tightened regulations for recyclers.

“We are very aware of the critical role the metals that we recycle play in the U.S. economy, so we’re especially proud to have supported legislators and law enforcement as they brought this bill to life,” Allen Hickman, CEO of PGM of Texas, said in a news release.

The other company involved with Spick was Two Guys Recycling, located in Bastrop, Louisiana, a small town between Shreveport and Jackson, Mississippi. Over four years, Two Guys Recycling paid Spick nearly $3.8 million, mostly in cash.

Adrian Barnes, the owner of Two Guys Recycling, said they often drove to Missouri from Louisiana to buy catalytic converters from Spick. When asked about their connection, Barnes mentioned it was through the converter community.

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James Spick will go in jail in March

Spick is set to start his five-year prison sentence in March. Senior U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs mentioned he wanted a longer sentence but was limited by federal guidelines. He described Spick’s sentence as lenient.

At the sentencing, Spick wore a gray jacket and dark pants and had family members in court. He requested probation, arguing in his memo that he also did legal business at his store to support himself, his family, and employees. He mentioned his close relationship with his ten-year-old daughter and their activities together, like attending church.

Spick’s pastor wrote a letter supporting him, noting his role as a head usher at church, where he makes people feel welcome.Top of Form

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