VW of America executive charged with fraud in emissions scandal
The former general manager of VW of America's engineering and environmental office was arrested over the weekend and charged with violating the Clean Air Act, wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. He is the second person to be charged in connection with the installation of illicit software on diesel-powered vehicles to allow them to cheat emissions tests, which the company has admitted doing.
According to the Courthouse News Service, this particular man is accused of misleading U.S. regulators. When asked to explain why Volkswagen vehicles were emitting higher levels of pollution on the road than they had during the tests, he "offered reasons for the discrepancy" other than the cheat software, although he allegedly knew the real reason.
'If we are not honest ...'
The scandal has cost VW's brand worldwide. Back in 2014, special tests were commissioned by a nonprofit called the International Council on Clean Transportation. Those test showed that certain diesel-engine vehicles produced by VW were emitting pollutants at higher than the allowable limit. A year after being confronted with the evidence, the company admitted to installing the illegal software on some 500,000 VW and Audi models sold in the U.S. with 2-liter diesel engines. It later added that some models with 3-liter engines also had the software. The EPA says the affected cars emitted up to 40 times as much nitrogen oxide as the law allows.
In the year between receiving the ICCT's test results and the company's admission, executives were forced to make some hard decisions. The executive charged this week was in charge of making sure VW vehicles sold in the U.S. and Canada complied with "past, present and future air quality and fuel economy government standards in both counties," according to a 2012 industry bio.
Yet when he analyzed the situation in terms of possible EPA penalties, he emailed another executive this message: "It should first be decided whether we are honest. If we are not honest, everything stays as it is."
Defendants often unaware of federal criminal investigations
In an earlier grand jury indictment prosecutors alleged that VW employees in both the U.S. and Germany conspired to repeatedly dupe regulators, possibly over the course of a decade. The identity of all those employees, however, has not been released. This week's criminal complaint affidavit lists several people, but anonymously.
Unfortunately, it's all too common for federal investigators to hold back information. Defendants often don't know what the investigation has found until prosecutors have finished building their cases -- or they don't know they're being investigated at all.