Three charged in connection with theft of catalytic converters | News

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SALEM — Salem police believe they stopped three men trying to steal a catalytic converter from a small SUV parked outside the Salem Heights apartment complex on Pope Street early Thursday.

And after the arrests, police found another catalytic converter, along with two charged Makita cordless saws and extra blades, inside a GMC Acadia the men were sitting in when officers approached.

The arrests come amid a rise in thefts of devices across the state, which contain small amounts of precious metals. They are part of a vehicle’s exhaust system and break down pollutants. They can net thieves a few hundred dollars from a scrap metal recycling company, but can cost the vehicle owner a minimum of $1,000 and up to $2,500 to replace.

Most apartments in Salem Heights are reserved for low-to-middle income renters.

Organized networks are believed to be responsible for most thefts.

Salem has had 13 reports of catalytic converter thefts citywide in the past year.

On Thursday, Richard Ortiz Jr., 27, of Brockton, Dadien Fuentes, 19, of Revere and Brian Sosa Martinez, 19, of Dorchester, were arrested.

All face charges of concealment, attempted crime, possession of burglary tools and vandalism; Ortiz also faces a series of vehicle violations.

Salem District Court Judge Carol-Ann Fraser denied a request from the district attorney’s office to set bail and released the three on personal bail following their arraignment Thursday.

A resident who heard what sounded like power tools being used outside at 3 a.m. called police, prosecutor Matthew Medoff told the judge.

When officers arrived outside the complex, they saw a man later identified as Ortiz walk away from a Honda CRV, a type of small SUV, and watched him drive into the Acadia, which had New Jersey license plates and was parked in a traffic lane, Medoff told the judge.

The men told officers they were expecting a friend, but could not provide further details of who he was or where he was, Medoff told the judge.

An officer noticed a large amount of rust on the floor under the Honda and then saw that part of the exhaust system where the catalytic converter is located had been cut out.

Inside Ortiz’s vehicle, which was not registered, police found another catalytic converter from an unknown vehicle, and both saws were charged. Officers also found a vehicle jack, mask and gloves – and a number of license plates from different vehicles.

Medoff requested $500 bail for Fuentes and Martinez, and $1,500 for Ortiz, who has a criminal record.

Lawyers for all three have urged Fraser to release their clients.

Justin Edwards, who represented Ortiz, said his client suffered from asthma and, although vaccinated, was afraid of being exposed to COVID-19 if he was detained in prison. Edwards said Ortiz worked in an auto area in Roxbury, using his income to pay child support for two children, and had previously worked for an auto repair company.

Lawyers for Fuentes and Martinez, who are both students at Charlestown High School, pointed to the lack of prior records from their clients and also said they could not afford to post bail.

Fraser warned the three people to stay away from 12 Pope Street and any witnesses. She also warned that they should stay away from each other.

A remote status hearing is scheduled for March 23, but the three have been told they don’t have to attend unless they want to.

Salem Heights is a two-building complex with 283 apartments, 80% of which are for residents whose income is at or below 60% of the area’s median income, according to the website of its parent company, Preservation of Affordable Housing.

Forensic reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

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