James Liang gets 40 months in prison and $200,000 fine
A former Volkswagen engineer who cooperated with U.S. authorities in investigating the automaker’s diesel emissions-cheating efforts was sentenced to 40 months in a federal prison and a fine of $200,000. James Liang, described as a diesel engine expert, became the first person sentenced by a U.S. court in connection with the diesel scandal; earlier this month, VW executive Oliver Schmidt pleaded guilty to related charges and could face up to seven years in prison and a similar fine — his sentencing hearing is scheduled for December.
Liang’s role in the emissions-cheating effort as an engineer working in Volkswagen’s Oxnard, California, office with the title of leader of diesel competence, according to government filings, was to calibrate the diesel engine software to recognize specific emissions tests’ drive cycles. The defeat devices themselves operated by detecting when a vehicle was being tested for emissions and turned on all emissions-control systems that otherwise remained off when the car detected that it was driven on the road.
The ruse worked for over eight years in the U.S., with Liang and other VW employees falsely certifying to the EPA and California Air Resources Board the vehicles’ compliance with the Clean Air Act, and the automaker itself marketing the cars as “Clean Diesel.” Independent tests by a university research team eventually uncovered significant discrepancies between the cars’ actual emissions in on-road tests and their stated emission levels, with Volkswagen publicly admitting to creating emissions-cheating software in September 2015.
Liang was ultimately sentenced on the charge of conspiracy in the diesel matter, and his attorneys initially requested a sentence of 21 months of house arrest. The prosecutors in the case requested three years of prison time, and the U.S. District Court elected to send a message to other engineers and executives in the industry who may be asked to do something illegal by their employers.
“The actions of James Robert Liang and others with which he conspired to fraudulently represent that Volkswagen AG was in compliance with regulatory emissions standards significantly impacted thousands of victim consumers,” David P. Gelios, special agent in charge, Detroit division of the FBI. “Today’s sentencing is significant as it demonstrates there is and will be personal culpability for corporate executives who knowingly cheat American consumers, violate federal laws and purposely utilize technologies that further endanger our environment.”
Liang and Schmidt are the only two former VW employees out of a total of eight that have been indicted by U.S. authorities; the rest, including higher-ranked current and former employees, are believed to be in Germany and under no serious threat of extradition. Earlier this year, U.S. authorities indicted former engine development boss Heinz-Jakob Neusser, quality management chief Bernd Gottweis, regulatory manager Jurgen Peter, engine development manager Jens Hadler and engineer Richard Dorenkamp in connection with the diesel investigation. VW settled its own criminal case with the U.S. government earlier for $4.3 billion, after resolving civil claims against itself for some $14.7 billion earlier in summer 2016.
“This sentence sends a strong message of deterrence to automotive engineers and executives who should think twice before knowingly breaking United States laws for the benefit of their employer,” acting United States Attorney Daniel L. Lemisch said in a statement.
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