TITUS COUNTY, Texas (KTAL/KMSS) – An East Texas mechanic is behind bars, accused of stealing multiple catalytic converters from customers’ cars when he was supposed to be fixing them.

According to the Titus County Sheriff’s Office, the investigations started after several customers reported the thefts and suspicious usage of their vehicles after taking them to the Beetle Shop on SW 47th St. (CR 2430) in Mt. Pleasant.

The first incident was reported on April 26 after a customer took their vehicle into the Beetle Shop for repairs unrelated to the exhaust system. After the customer picked it up, they discovered that the catalytic converters had been stolen and replaced with a section of an exhaust pipe.

In the second incident, a customer left their vehicle that was equipped with GPS tracking at the shop for repairs. During the investigation, the sheriff’s office says they discovered that the vehicle accumulated several thousand miles on the odometer. The vehicle had been allegedly driven by 52-year-old Michael Whitaker of Titus County.

Whitaker was arrested on charges of unauthorized use of a vehicle.

On May 25, the sheriff’s office received reports of another incident where a customer left their vehicle at the Beetle Shop for repairs and later discovered their catalytic converter stolen. The sheriff’s office says the investigation is still ongoing, but Whitaker was arrested Thursday on a felony indictment and booked into the Titus County Jail, where he is currently awaiting arraignment by a magistrate.

Catalytic converters are part of a vehicle’s exhaust system. Vehicles can run without them, but they help reduce air pollution by controlling toxic emissions created by internal combustion engines. Because they are made with the precious metals rhodium, palladium, and platinum, thieves often steal catalytic converters to sell at metal recycling centers for quick cash. An average catalytic converter can cost between $800 and $1,200 to replace.

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The sheriff’s office says they don’t normally post information about how businesses operate, but they made an exception in this case.

“We believe there is a compelling need to make the public aware of the repetitive offenses related to customers vehicles who leave their vehicles at the Beetle Shop for repairs.”