Five people have been arrested and charged for their roles in a multi-state scheme to steal hundreds of new catalytic converters from the Mercedes Benz U.S. International plant in Tuscaloosa County.

Deputy Josh Hastings, a sergeant with the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigations Division, said the plant's security team alerted TCSO to the thefts last year after becoming aware of them internally.

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Hastings said after conducting interviews and reviewing surveillance footage, the CID team believes employees for a contractor, identified in court documents as Univar Solutions Inc., were loading brand new converters into work trucks and driving them right off the property.

"What we discovered during the course of the investigation was there was an outside company that had access to the plant and the grounds and some of the employees of this company, on several occasions, were taking these brand-new converters out of the plant."

In one deposition obtained by the Tuscaloosa Thread, police said Larry Jenkins and Darius Woods, two Univar employees, were caught on surveillance cameras last October leaving the plant with 24 metal barrels on the back of their truck.

Those barrels, investigators say, were filled with 300 brand-new catalytic converters worth just shy of $400,000 at the time.

Catalytic converters contain a trio of extremely rare metals, platinum, palladium and rhodium, prices for which have skyrocketed because of the pandemic and other factors.

Jenkins and Woods allegedly drove to a rural property in the McCalla / Abernant area, where police say they were giving the converters to a third Univar employee, Timmy Norris.

Norris reportedly sold the converters to a man who runs a local scrap yard, Terry Kimbrell, who then passed them on to the fifth man implicated in the scheme, Cyrus Fannin.

Hastings said deputies believe Fannin makes his living selling catalytic converters, and that those stolen from MBUSI were being sold to another party in Tennessee.

The investigation took several months and collaboration with state and federal partners, Hastings said.

"We had assistance from the FBI on this, we had assistance from the Alabama Department of Revenue because they know all about the scrap laws," he told the Thread. "It took several months to put together because it was such a large case and it's hard to put an exact dollar amount on it -- I do know that it was a substantial amount."

The three men accused of stealing the converters were arrested in February and March, and cases were built against Kimbrell and Fannin, who were both indicted by grand juries at the end of August and arrested this month.

Woods and Jenkins were both charged with first-degree theft of property. Norris, Kimbrell and Fannin were charged with first-degree receiving stolen property, and the latter two were also charged with violating scrap law requiring strict records for the sale of catalytic converters. All charges filed in this case are felonies.

All five men have been released from jail on bond.

Hastings thanked the team at MBUSI for getting the case started and proving investigators with evidence that was critical to the investigation. He also thanked the FBI and the state Department of Revenue for the assistance they provided in the latter stages of the investigation.

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