East Bay pair arrested for catalytic converter theft
Two East Bay men arrested last week in Sonoma on charges of possession of stolen property, including three catalytic converters, were arrested again Tuesday after detectives from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office observed them sawing a catalytic converter from a pickup truck in Novato.
Sgt. Mike Raasch, with the Sheriff's Property Crimes Investigation unit, said in a release that detectives were conducting surveillance on the two suspects, Michael Helms, 47, from San Pablo, and his partner, Larry Hernandez, 45, from El Sobrante. Helms and Hernandez were suspected of stealing at least three vehicles, breaking into a truck and stealing tools, along with stealing catalytic converters.
The break in the case came on the morning of April 21, when a deputy was sent to the Maxwell Village Shopping Center to investigate a suspicious vehicle with two occupants. The deputy detained both Helms and Hernandez and found several unreported stolen tools belonging to a Valley business. When deputies tracked down an employee of the business, he told them the tools had been stolen during the night from his locked work truck. Deputies found three freshly cut catalytic converters along with Sawzalls and burglary tools inside the suspects' truck. Sawzalls are reciprocating power saws typically used to cut through metal. Deputies arrested both Helms and Hernandez for possession of stolen property and they were booked into the Sonoma County jail.
But before detectives had a chance to complete their follow-up investigation, both suspects posted bail and were released from jail.
Raasch said detectives from the property crimes unit, along with the Sonoma County Auto Task Force, compared notes and learned that on the night of April 20, there had been three Nissan pick-up trucks stolen in the Rincon Valley area of Santa Rosa. All three trucks were found within a mile of where they were stolen and all three had the catalytic converters cut out of the exhaust pipes.
The Auto Task Force detectives took the three catalytic converters out of evidence to see if they came from the stolen/recovered Nissan pick-up trucks.
The seized catalytic converters fit like pieces of a puzzle and were positively identified as having been stolen from the recovered Nissan pick-up trucks, Raasch said.
Tuesday, at around 10 a.m., Sonoma County detectives were conducting surveillance on Helms and Hernandez, who where located driving around the Rohnert Park area in a dark-colored Chevy pick-up truck. Detectives followed the suspects to a Park-n-Ride lot located on Atherton Avenue in Novato. Raasch said the detectives watched as Hernandez got out of the truck and used a Sawzall to cut the catalytic convert off an older model Toyota pick-up truck parked in the lot. Helms acted as Hernandez' lookout. Both suspects fled the scene but were stopped about a mile from the Park-n-Ride and were arrested by detectives.
When they searched the suspects' truck, degtectives found burglary tools, drugs, and two catalytic converters (one was a matched to the Toyota truck that was parked at the Park-n-Ride).
Helms was arrested on charges of grand theft, conspiracy, possession of a controlled substance, possession of burglary tools, and driving on a suspended license. His bail was set at $110,000.
Hernandez was arrested on charges of grand theft, conspiracy and possession of burglary tools. His bail was alsoset at $110,000. Both suspects were turned over to Novato police, as the crime occurred in their jurisdiction, and were booked into the Marin County jail.
Helms and Hernandez will be brought back to Sonoma County to face additional charges stemming from the theft of the three Nissan pick-up trucks. Petaluma police sent a detective to the Marin County jail to interview the two men due to the fact that there had recently been a rash of catalytic converter thefts in their jurisdiction.