The center of a recent “mass plague” of catalytic converter thefts from the Baton Rouge area was a home in a guarded neighborhood near Staring Lane, arrest records say.
Neighbors on quiet Stonecraft Avenue had repeatedly reported the couple who owned the home to suspicious activity. But then, on Thursday, they realized the scale of this activity when police searched the home and found more than 100 of the stolen parts in a shed and on the back of a truck, affidavits said.
Matthew Gibson, 39, and Brooke Gibson, 34, were arrested Thursday night after police issued a search warrant and discovered catalytic converters stacked in a Ford F-150 parked in the couple’s front driveway, as well as heroin, The documents show LSD, illegal prescription drugs, MDMA, cocaine, fentanyl and crystal meth, and an unloaded Browning shotgun.
Gibson, whose five-year-old son was home at the time of the raid, admitted he was a heroin addict and told detectives he bought the converters, which had been stolen from people across the community, with the intention of selling them they’re selling to buyers both locally and in Texas, the affidavit said.
He told police he knew the parts had been stolen because the people he bought them from talked about stealing them, the document said. And he said he had drugs in his garage because “people would bring the drugs when they sold the converters.”
The raid highlighted the sharp rise in catalytic converter thefts that law enforcement and auto experts say have bombed cities across the country over the past year.
Manufactured from precious metals such as platinum, rhodium and palladium, all of which have seen dramatic increases in value in recent years, the pieces have an exceptionally high market value, which can range from $900 to $2,500 or more.
In Baton Rouge, police said they received around 450 reports of catalytic converter thefts in 2021. Comparative data from previous years is not available as the department only started to keep track after the surge.
Because Louisiana has stricter laws about who can buy and sell catalytic converters, many of the parts cross state lines into Texas, where they can be more easily bought, melted down and resold.
Stolen converters can be bought for less than $500 a piece, then the extracted metals can be sold at exorbitant prices, John Chaney, operations manager of Louisiana Scrap Metal in Port Allen, told the Advocate in January.
Prior to their arrest, the Gibsons’ conspicuous activities had long been controversial, neighbors said.
Local residents reported seeing strange vehicles driving in and out of the couple’s home at all times of the night, often accompanied by loud music and crafts from a makeshift “chop shop” that Matthew Gibson had set up in a row of empty parking lots across the street .
He reportedly introduced himself to neighbors as an auto mechanic, but police documents say both Gibsons were unemployed at the time of their arrests.
They were sent to East Baton Rouge Community Jail for possessing over $25,000 worth of stolen property, contributing to a juvenile’s delinquency, possessing drug paraphernalia, distributing drugs with intent and possessing a firearm.