A Newbury Park man pleaded guilty to single counts of conspiracy to defraud the federal government, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and violating the Clean Air Act for allegedly designing and implementing software that would falsify emissions reports for Volkswagen vehicles.
Authorities say that James Robert Liang, 62, of Newbury Park, helped create software that covered up the fact that some Volkswagen vehicles exceeded Clean Air Act emissions regulations by as much as 40 times.
As part of the plea agreement, Liang will cooperate with federal authorities as they prepare additional charges against others at Volkswagen who also participated in the fraud. The federal investigation could lead to charges against senior executives at the company.
The fraud began in 2006 when Liang and others at the company began work on a new diesel engine in Germany that was intended for use in US vehicles. According to federal prosecutors, Liang and his team knew almost immediately that the proposed engine design would not meet federal emissions standards. Instead of redesigning the engine, they designed “defeat devices” that could reliably determine when the vehicle was being emission tested. Software then temporarily reduced the engine’s nitrogen oxide emissions below the maximum allowed under the Clean Air Act. When the car was not being tested, the nitrogen oxide emissions were unrestricted.
Liang transferred to the company’s Oxnard test facility in 2008, and worked on improvements to the engine software in an effort to reduce the company’s warranty claims. Liang and his team rolled out the new software to unsuspecting vehicle owners, claiming that the software was intended to enhance vehicle performance. The “defeat devices” were discovered last fall in some Volkswagen and Audi vehicles.
The automaker has agreed to pay nearly $15 billion to settle federal government claims against the company. In addition, the company has agreed to buy back or cancel leases on affected vehicles. In addition, the company will sponsor a trust fund to support environmental programs. Liang faces up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
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Photo Credit: Leo-Setä, via Flickr.com