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DES MOINES, Iowa — Catalytic converters have long been targeted for their precious metals, but Willkie House executive director Jon Cardamone feels especially singled out by the thieves.

“About two weeks ago, we had one stolen from our van,” Cardamone said. “We got it fixed, and within 24 hours of getting it back it was stolen again.”

The van for the non-profit child care center is now awaiting its third catalytic converter at a mechanic, a statistic in what law enforcement officers believe is a nationwide spike in catalytic converter thefts.

“It’s gone up exponentially,” said Lt. Ryan Evans of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re seeing several reports a week now, whereas before we were seeing several a month. They’re not necessarily selling them here, they’ll take them to other states and get rid of them at that point.”

The Des Moines Police Department estimates more than 100 catalytic converters have been stolen within city limits so far this year.

Cardamone said the Willkie House paid $500 for each catalytic converter replacement on the van, but it would have cost $5,000 apiece if not for insurance. He said the money and the inconvenience has already affected the children who call the house their second home.

“We were going to go to the African American History Museum in Cedar Rapids on Friday, but we have had to reschedule that entire trip,” Cardamone said. “The money we spent is field trips taken away from our kids. That’s an Adventureland, that’s a Blank Park Zoo.”

Cardamone has now invested in cages to protect the van’s catalytic converters, while he waits for authorities to find out who stole them.

“It’s ridiculous. The criminals need to be caught,” Cardamone said. “If you know who is doing this, just know who they’re hurting.”