It happened in broad daylight.
Neighbors and motorists didn't think twice as they passed the two mechanics working underneath Rebecca LaFond's 2005 Toyota Sequoia on Avenue 54 early Saturday morning.
At the time, none realized that they weren't making repair to the vehicle, but were actually stealing its catalytic converter for the valuable precious metals like palladium, platinum and rhodium found inside.
"They got away with it in broad daylight because they found a way to pop my hood, hook their car up to mine with jumper cables so it looked like they were doing a repair, and went under my car and cut out my catalytic converter with a saw," LaFond said. "My neighbor, and everyone else that drives down Ave 54, didn't stop them, because she thought they were fixing my car."
LaFond realized something was wrong with the vehicle after she loaded up her children for a trip to the zoo.
"I turned the key in the ignition, and it sounded like a Harley Davidson," LaFond said.
Catalytic Converter theft is nothing new in California. In fact, it had become so prominent by 2010 that the state legislature passed SB627, which requires scrap dealers to create a paper trail whenever they purchase a catalytic converter.
Though the metals found in the part, designed to detoxify emissions, are comparable to gold in value, they exist in such trace amounts that a catalytic converter will usually only fetch $30 to $60 from scrap dealers.
However, Detective Larry Burcher of Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division said vehicles like LaFond's Sequoia and other Toyota SUVs present irresistibly easy targets.
"They go after the vehicles because they sit so high off the ground, it's very easy to get underneath," Burcher said.
Burcher said catalytic converter theft waxes and wanes, largely due to the willingness of scrap dealers to take the risk of purchasing the contraband.
"You can't just steal a catalytic converter and take it to scrap dealer and get money right away, like you used to," he said.
Those words come as cold comfort to LaFond, who was set back $500 by the theft. Her insurance deductible covered the rest of the $2,300 replacement.
Given the bulk of other, higher priority crimes being handled by Northeast Division, the likelihood of the thieves being brought to justice is low.
"It didn't seem like the crime was high on their priority list, even though we had a potential witness," LaFond said. "The report seemed like more a formality for insurance purposes."