Sheriff’s office busts catalytic converter theft ring

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Source: KCSO

A criminal organization that bought and sold large numbers of catalytic converters stolen from Knox County and surrounding communities was laid low by a 10-month-long investigation, authorities said Tuesday. 

“This was a large and in-depth criminal organization who have been preying on the citizens of Knox County and East Tennessee,” said Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler. “I think a lot of people in our community have been hit by these individuals.”

The operation was announced at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in the City-County Building. 

“Investigations like this one can take months to conduct as we want to ensure these types of organizations are completely dismantled once the investigation is complete,” Spangler said.

KCSO officials said that eight arrests were made and five search warrants were executed Friday in Knox, Blount and Scott counties by a task force of 50 officers and support personnel.

Each of the suspects had been indicted by a Knox County grand jury on charges of theft and money laundering, officials said.

The suspects were identified as: 

Tegan Lee Cain, 25 of Knoxville

Earnest Stephen Bradley, 42 of Knoxville

 Rhea Christopher Browder, 32 of Knoxville 

Edward Carmack Browder, 45 of Knoxville

Kalab Andrew Eskew, 38 of Scott County 

William Duane Hall, 42 of Blount County

James Robert Glaze, 44, address unavailable 

Damien Ogorman, 65, address unavailable 

KCSO Chief of Detectives David Amburn and Detective Lee Strzelecki explained how the crew operated.

Strzelecki described the Browders, Cain and Bradley as the ringleaders. The men allegedly paid cash for stolen catalytic converters and then sold them to facilities that could recycle the precious metals contained in them.

Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler at Tuesday’s press conference. Photo from KCSO’s Facebook page.

The operation involved numerous undercover transactions and contributed to the dissolution of one business, Carmack Motors, which was located in South Knox County, they said.

The detectives declined to say how much the suspects allegedly paid for the stolen car parts or how much money their operation raked in.

“This is an incredibly lucrative business,” said Amburn.

When asked how many thefts the suspects were believed to have committed, the officers declined to give a specific number but went on to say that approximately 500 catalytic converters were stolen in Knox County last year.

Amburn said one of the most difficult obstacles faced by detectives was the fact that catalytic converters don’t have serial numbers that allow police to link them with a specific car.

“You can’t automatically charge them with theft if you catch them,” Amburn explained. 

Amburn stressed that the investigation was ongoing and refused to say if more arrests were expected.

Spangler said he’s hopeful the arrests will slow down the rate of thefts but added that citizens need to pay attention when they park their cars. 

“I would like you to be mindful that, while a very large-scale operation is now out of business, we need the citizens to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity,” he said.

Knox County Sheriff’s Office Detective Lee Strzelecki explains the roles played by the members of an alleged catalytic converter theft ring at a Tuesday press conference. Photo from KCSO’s Facebook page.

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com. 

Published on September 8, 2021