North Bay Men Arrested In Catalytic Converter Scheme

SAN RAFAEL (CBS SF) – Two El Sobrante men have been arrested on suspicion of stealing pickup trucks in Marin and Sonoma counties and removing their catalytic converters.

Michael Helms, 47, and Larry Eugene Hernandez, 45, are suspected of stealing three Nissan pickup trucks in the RinconValley area near Santa Rosa last Wednesday, Sonoma County sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Raasch said.

The trucks were found about mile from where they were stolen, and all three had the catalytic converters cut off, Raasch said. The devices are used to reduce cars’ carbon monoxide and other emissions.

Helms and Hernandez were arrested Thursday after a sheriff’s deputy responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle in the area of the Lucky supermarket on Sonoma Highway in Sonoma Valley, Raasch said.

The deputy detained Helms and Hernandez, who were in a truck, and found tools that had allegedly been stolen overnight from a truck parked at a business in SonomaValley, Raasch said.

Deputies also found three freshly cut catalytic converters, small electric saws and burglary tools inside the truck, Raasch said.

Helms and Hernandez were arrested for possession of stolen property and booked into the Sonoma County Jail, but they posted bail before detectives completed their investigation, Raasch said.

During the investigation, detectives matched the three catalytic converters they had seized as evidence to the three recovered Nissan pickups, Raasch said.

Sheriff’s detectives, who had Helms and Hernandez under surveillance, saw them driving in a Chevrolet pickup in Rohnert Park around 10 a.m. Tuesday, Raasch said.

Detectives followed them to a Park & Ride lot on Atherton Avenue in Novato where they watched Hernandez cut a catalytic converter from a parked, older-model Toyota pickup as Helms acted as a lookout, Raasch said.

Helms and Hernandez fled but were stopped by the detectives, who found burglary tools, drugs and two catalytic converters – including the one from the Toyota- in their truck, Raasch said.

Helms was arrested on suspicion of grand theft, conspiracy, possession of a controlled substance, possession of burglary tools and driving on a suspended license.

Hernandez was arrested for grand theft, conspiracy and possession of burglary tools.

Both men were turned over to Novato police and were booked into the Marin County jail on $110,000 bail. Helms was booked under the name John Wayne Helms. They were scheduled to be arraigned in Marin County Superior Court Wednesday afternoon.

Helms and Hernandez will be brought back to Sonoma County to face additional charges related to the stolen Nissan pickups, Raasch said.

There has been a rash of catalytic converter thefts in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, and Petaluma police have sent a detective to interview Helms and Hernandez in Marin County Jail, Raasch said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)


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