A key figure in a gang which stole catalytic converters from vehicles across Lincolnshire was jailed for three years at Lincoln Crown Court on Friday.
Jacob Smith was described as one of the main men in the gang which operated in the dead of night.
The victims only discovered what had happened when they tried to use their vehicles the following morning and found that a key part was missing.
Gareth Weetman, prosecuting, said the gang targeted a number of towns including Spalding, Boston, Horncastle and Woodhall Spa stealing as many 16 converters in a single night.
Mr Weetman said: “In March 2012 there were in excess of 32 thefts of catalytic converters in the wider Lincolnshire area. All of the thefts were at night time and mostly they were unseen. There was a pattern of four or five thefts within an hour of one another.
“It was only when the owners attempted to drive away that they found their vehicles were missing an important part. A cutting tool was used to take out the relevant part of the exhaust and remove the catalytic converter.”
Smith became a suspect because of his connection to a Volvo car linked with the thefts.
The vehicle was involved in an 80mph police chase before being abandoned at the Five Acres caravan site at Gosberton Risegate.
The two men inside the car ran off and managed to evade a police dog team.
Relatives of Smith were present on the site and a search of the area led to the discovery of 32 catalytic converters hidden under a tarpaulin.
A glove found inside the car was found to contain Smith’s DNA.
Smith was eventually tracked down in July last year and arrested.
Mr Weetman said it was clear that one or more other people were involved in the thefts but no further charges have been brought.
Smith (43), of Palmers Road, Peterborough, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal catalytic converters between March 1-30, 2012. The court was told he accepted involvement in 20 thefts which left motorists facing £18,000 worth of repairs.
Recorder Timothy Spencer QC told Smith: “This was systematic, organised, targeted crime. The level of damage was extensive and the disruption to people’s lives is obvious.”
Dominic Shelley, defending, said Smith admitted his part in the thefts and should be given credit for pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity.