After searching a car for heroin during a February traffic stop, police found a large number of catalytic converters.

A Washington County Sheriff’s Department Deputy James Wells pulled over a Hyundai Sonata in Cabot Village on Feb. 26 at 1 p.m., for a defective exhaust pipe.

Police say there were small bags “consistent with packaging of heroin” in the car and asked the driver, Robert Dragon III, 28, of Hardwick, for permission to search the car, which Dragon gave. Police found at least half a dozen hypodermic needles in the car, and found “a large amount” of catalytic converters in the trunk.

Dispatchers told the police they hadn’t heard of any cases involving catalytic converters; Dragon said he gets old cars and takes the converters off. Wells let Dragon go, but became suspicious and called Hardwick Police Department to check Dragon’s story.

The deputy became aware that Dragon had given him the wrong name, and Hardwick police told him that a number of catalytic converters had been reported stolen in Hardwick and Morristown. Wells issued a be-on-the-lookout alert for the Sonata.

Soon after, Vermont State Police Trooper Brandon Gallant pulled the car over in East Montpelier — Dragon was no longer driving, since he didn’t have a valid license, and he’d given his brother’s name when he was first pulled over. He was taken into custody.

During their investigation, police learned that Mekkleson RV in East Montpelier had reported converters stolen from two Ford motor homes. The repair cost for the two vehicles was $3,927.

Later, police determined that HP Fairfield in Morrisville had reported converters stolen from a Ford F350 in the shop. That vehicle cost $1,930 to repair.

A woman later told police she had been with Dragon when he cut the converters off of vehicles at Mekkleson’s, Eastman Auto in Barre, the Armory in Montpelier, and elsewhere.

After a month-long investigation, police alleged that Dragon had caused $13,353 worth of damage in cutting off catalytic converters.

Police accused Dragon of grand larceny, unlawful mischief and possessing stolen property. He pleaded not guilty in Washington County Superior Court April 25 and in Lamoille County court May 22.

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