Hollister PD captures suspected catalytic converter thieves

Local neighbor phoned in suspicious activity

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Fernando Esparza, left, and Rafael Lazaro were arrested and booked into San Benito County Jail on Dec. 9 on several allegations including vehicle tampering and attempted theft. Photo: contributed

The Hollister Police Department has captured a trio of out-of-town catalytic converter bandits thanks to a phone call tip from a nearby concerned resident, according to authorities.  

The police issued a press release on Dec. 10 announcing that 29-year old Rafael Lazaro, Fernando Esparza, 37, and Janet Sliva, 38, all from Bakersfield, were arrested and booked into San Benito County Jail on several allegations including vehicle tampering and attempted theft. 

The three suspects were linked to an attempted theft of a catalytic converter on the 2000 block of Highland Drive. A resident in the area called shortly after midnight Dec. 9 and Officer Eduardo Solis found a vehicle on Highland Drive, confirming that the catalytic converter was partially removed. 

“The Hollister Police Department would like to thank the citizen who called the police to report the suspicious activity and provided a good description of the suspect and the vehicle. The police value the partnership we have with our community. Working together we can continue to make Hollister a safe place to live,” HPD said. 

Lazaro, who was a passenger in the back seat, had allegedly stolen several catalytic converters that evening including the one he attempted to steal on Highland Drive. He was arrested and booked on violations of vehicle tampering, attempted theft, possession of burglary tools and conspiracy, according to the police.

Esparza, who was the driver of the Tahoe, was arrested and booked on violations of vehicle tampering, attempted theft, possession of burglary tools, possession of a controlled substance, conspiracy and having a warrant for his arrest out of Bakersfield.

Janet Sliva were arrested and booked into San Benito County Jail on Dec. 9. Photo: contributed

Silva was arrested and booked on suspicion of vehicle tampering, conspiracy and being under the influence of a controlled substance.

Police officers were dispatched to the 2000 block of Highland Drive shortly after midnight after a report of a man who was seen getting into a silver Chevrolet Tahoe and then speeding away. The reporting party told dispatchers that the man was trying to steal a catalytic converter from a nearby truck. 

Officer Rene Rayas spotted a silver 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe driving northbound on Highway 25 from Sunnyslope Road. He conducted an investigatory stop near San Felipe Road and he noticed strange behavior—notably their reason for being in Hollister in the middle of the night, police said. 

The police said that cutting tools were found inside the Tahoe, and Silva appeared to be under the influence of a controlled substance. 

Officer Jason Hutchins and his K9 partner, Lupo, conducted an exterior “sniff” of the Tahoe and the dog alerted officers to the presence of drugs inside the sports utility vehicle, authorities said. A baggie of methamphetamine was found in the center console along with several power tools, reciprocating saws and two recently removed catalytic converters that were found in the rear seat, said the police.  

According to HPD, catalytic converters are popular amongst thieves because they are composed of valuable metals including platinum, palladium and rhodium. They can be sold to metal recyclers for anywhere between $20 and $250. The vehicles from which the catalytic converters were stolen were not located.

Anyone with information on this case or any other pending investigation can call the Hollister Police Department at 831-636-4330. Anonymous callers can call the WeTip Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME (1-800-782-7463). Information provided to WeTip may qualify for a reward.