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June 28, 2023

Philly towing company allegedly bought and resold thousands of stolen catalytic converters

Investigators say, the Harrowgate tow yard received nearly $8.2 million in stolen parts; 11 people are facing charges in Bucks County

Investigations Theft

The Bucks County District Attorney's Office has charged 11 people and one corporation, Philadelphia-based TDI Towing, with multiple felonies including corrupt organizations and theft of catalytic converters.

A towing company in Northeast Philadelphia allegedly conspired with thieves to purchase and resell thousands of catalytic converters that were stolen from cars in the Delaware Valley over the last few years, Bucks County prosecutors said.

Charges have been filed against seven employees of TDI Towing and four alleged catalytic converter thieves — known as "cutters" — following a yearlong investigation into the tow yard's business dealings.

Catalytic converter thefts have surged in the U.S. over the last few years due to the resale value of the metals they're made of and the relative ease of removing them from cars. The devices are attached to the bottoms of vehicles and are used to clean the toxic emissions contained in exhaust gas.

Catalytic converters are targeted because they can be broken down into rhodium, platinum and palladium. The prices offered for these metals rose during the pandemic due to supply chain issues, with an ounce of rhodium valued at $20,000, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Palladium and platinum are valued at $1,000 per ounce.

A skilled thief can remove a catalytic converter in about a minute by using a battery-operated saw. Car owners are then left to replace the parts and pay for expensive repairs that can cost upwards of $2,000.

Bucks County authorities began to investigate TDI Towing after discovering that the company was allegedly the main buyer of catalytic converters stolen from cars in Bucks and Montgomery counties. Over a period of several months, detectives monitored the activities of the tow yard at 2335 Wheatsheaf Lane, in the Harrowgate neighborhood, to gather evidence on how the business was obtaining and selling the parts, authorities said.

The investigation found that TDI Towing allegedly had been paying thieves about $10,000 per night for stolen catalytic converters, sometimes purchasing as many as 30 in the course of a night. The business advertised daytime hours, but remained open throughout the night for thieves to allegedly sell the company stolen parts.

Over the course of three years, investigators said TDI Towing purchased about 27,300 catalytic converters at an average of $300 per part. The total value of the catalytic converters was estimated to be about $8.2 million, prosecutors said.

The owner of the company, Michael Williams, 52, of Philadelphia, allegedly leaned on employees who had family connections to him to help oversee TDI Towing's collaboration with the four "cutters" who brought stolen parts to the tow yard.

Williams allegedly took the catalytic converters for resale and profit at another, unnamed location. He sold about 50 of them per trip, prosecutors said.

The other TDI Towing employees charged in the investigation are Williams' sister-in-law, Lisa Davalos, 47, of Philadelphia; Eric Simpson, 41, of Philadelphia; Michael Bruce, 30, of Sewell, New Jersey.; Kevin Schwartz, 33, of Philadelphia; Patrick Hopkins, 24, of Philadelphia; and a 17-year-old.

The alleged catalytic-converter thieves facing charges are Michael Evangelist, 35, of Philadelphia; Anthony Davalos Sr., 43, of Philadelphia; Richard Allan Page, 39, of Warminster; and Gary Shirley, 48, of Hatboro. Page is still at large.

Anthony Davalos, a former employee of TDI Towing, previously had been convicted in the theft of 22 catalytic converters but had failed to appear for sentencing. The company allegedly let him go because Williams wanted to avoid attention from police.

While Davalos was on the run, authorities said he nearly ran down a detective with his car near a shopping center on Street Road in June 2021. The detective had spotted a man positioned beneath a car, allegedly to steal a catalytic converter, while Davalos sat behind the wheel of a getaway car, investigators said. When the detective ordered the two men to stop, Davalos allegedly drove his car toward the detective and crashed into a parked car before fleeing the scene.

TDI Towing and each of the defendants face charges of corrupt organizations, criminal conspiracy, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activity and related offenses. The cutters are charged with additional counts of theft and other offenses. Anthony Davalos is charged with aggravated assault and other offenses connected to the incident in 2021, authorities said.

The investigation was aided by nearly three dozen law enforcement agencies in Bucks County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Philadelphia and New Jersey.