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Sawed off! Greenpoint car part thieves cause catalytic catastrophe

Catalytic corrector: Salerno Service Center owner Sal Salerno has replaced catalytic converters in two cars that were plundered of the valuable part during a recent spate of thefts in Greenpoint.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A rash of thefts of an obscure car part that helps filter exhaust is dirtying the air in Greenpoint and has cops and victims, well, fuming.

Thieves cut the catalytic converter out of more than a dozen cars in the neighborhood during the last month, leaving louder-than-normal vehicles that spew toxins in their wake, and car owners who realize they’ve been robbed the second they turn the ignition.

“They sawed it right off,” said Vince Venezia, who whose Land Rover was parked on Russell Street between Norman and Messerole avenues for two nights sounded more like a Harley than a Humvee when he returned and started it. “In the back of my mind, I thought maybe something had been stolen, because I had not moved the car and it was fine the last time I drove it,”

The owner drove his crippled car to Salerno’s Service Center, an auto repair shop in Williamsburg, where owner told him just how the crooks do it.

“They go under these cars and they know exactly what they are looking for,” said Sal Salerno, who has repaired the cars of two victims. “They take a battery-operated saw and it comes right out.”

In the biggest haul, cops say thieves ravaged 10 Time Warner Cable vans in one night for the valuable part that can contain platinum and sells, according to an auto supplier, for $75 to $180. Auto shops in New York City are not allowed to buy used catalytic converters, but shops in New Jersey and Connecticut can.

Salerno said he charges between $200 and $2,000 to replace a catalytic converter, and some cars have more than one. He charged Venezia $1,500, which Venezia hopes will be covered by his insurance policy.

Police say they are not sure if all of the thefts are connected, but catalytic converters have not been a hot commodity for thieves in recent years, according to cops.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

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