A Crown prosecutor has asked a North Vancouver provincial court judge to send an unusual cat burglar to jail for a year.
Crown counsel Violet Allard asked that 37-year-old Travis William Aschert of Surrey be sent to prison for 12 months after Aschert was caught red-handed by police stealing a catalytic converter from a Toyota 4Runner in North Vancouver.
A subsequent investigation showed prior to being caught, Aschert had sold 66 catalytic converters to a Surrey scrap metal yard over a four-month period.
Police first began investigating after a rash of 39 catalytic converter thefts were reported in North Vancouver in the summer of 2014, similar to other catalytic converter thefts in the Lower Mainland. Toyota 4Runners were the primary target, said Allard.
Catalytic converters, which are part of a car’s exhaust and pollution control system, are targeted by metal thieves because they contain small amounts of precious metals, said Allard. The higher amount of platinum in a 4Runner’s catalytic converter has made that model a favourite target for metal thieves, said Allard, who make about $200 for each converter they sell. She said it costs an owner or ICBC about $1,000 to $1,700 to replace a catalytic converter.
After researching past thefts of catalytic converters, police set up surveillance on Aschert, whose past convictions for similar crimes and description matching that of a man seen near one of the thefts put him on the RCMP’s radar.
On the night of July 2, 2014, police followed Aschert as he drove from his home in Surrey to a neighbourhood near Capilano University in North Vancouver. Aschert parked near a housing complex on Percival Way, turned out the lights and sat there for several hours. Just after 2 a.m. on July 3, officers watched as he entered a garage with tools and listened to the sound of “metal on metal.”
After 20 minutes, Aschert emerged carrying the catalytic converter. After a scuffle with police, Aschert was arrested. He later admitted to “cutting a couple of cats” and fencing some others, said Allard.
Later, one scrap metal yard provided police with invoices showing the number of catalytic converters Aschert had sold in previous months. “Sometimes he would come in with three in one day,” said Allard.
The prosecutor noted Aschert has a number of previous convictions for stealing the vehicle part. In October 2008, he was found under a car, after the vehicle fell off a jack and pinned him while he was trying to steal a catalytic converter. In June 2011 Burnaby police nabbed Aschert under a Toyota 4Runner while he was attempting to steal the catalytic converter. He was searched and found to be carrying three more catalytic converters, along with a pipe-cutting tool.
“This is not a hapless thief,” said Allard. “He’s got skill.”
The Crown noted Aschert was in possession of the drug fentanyl when he was nabbed by police, adding his crime sprees are usually linked to his drug addiction.
Defence lawyer Jacqueline Percival asked the judge for leniency. She said Aschert’s drug problems started with a series of tragic events in his life, including a suicide attempt when he was brain damaged after surviving a jump off the Patullo Bridge, and a pool house fire where he suffered burns to 80 per cent of his body.
He suffered another head injury in a car accident when the vehicle he was travelling in was hit by a train at a railway crossing, she said.
Percival said Aschert was “self-medicating” with a mixture of crystal meth, cocaine and heroin at the time of the thefts but added he has been off drugs for a year.
Aschert has a good job working at a scrap yard in Surrey, seven days a week, she said. Going to jail would be “very disruptive” to his attempts to turn his life around, she said.
Aschert’s sentencing has been adjourned until Jan. 27.