VW Engineer Gets 40-Month Sentence in Emissions Scandal

FILE – In this Sept. 9, 2016, file photo, Volkswagen engineer James Robert Liang, left, leaves court, in Detroit, after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy in the company’s emissions cheating scandal. He is one of two VW employees to plead guilty, although others charged in the case are in Germany and out of reach. (Virginia Lozano/Detroit News via AP, File)

DETROIT (CN) – An engineer responsible for one of the biggest automotive scandals in history was sentenced Friday to 40 months in prison and a $200,000 fine for his role in hiding high emissions levels in Volkswagen diesel vehicles.

James Liang, 63, is the first person to be sentenced to federal prison over the automaker’s scheme to get around U.S. pollution rules on nearly 600,000 vehicles.

Prosecutors said Liang was responsible for helping develop emissions-cheating software after fellow engineers discovered their new generation of diesel engines would not be able to meet tightening emission standards. The software was able to detect when the engine was tested and adjusted emissions to legal levels.

According to the Justice Department, Liang’s co-conspirators lied to the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board officials when they assured the agencies that the VW engines met current emissions standards during yearly certification meetings.

Liang also encouraged his co-workers to lie to investigators when suspicions grew about the engines from independent studies, prosecutors said.

The engineer’s sentence was stiffer than prosecutors’ request for three years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

The Detroit News reported that U.S. District Judge Sean Cox noted during the sentencing hearing Friday that Liang was cooperative with prosecutors and regretful for his role in the scandal.

“Your cooperation and regret is noted,” he said “but it doesn’t excuse your conduct.”

Liang pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government.

Oliver Schmidt, 48, a former manager of a VW engineering office in suburban Detroit, pleaded guilty this month to conspiracy and fraud charges related to the scandal. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 6.

Volkswagen itself pleaded guilty in March and agreed to pay $4.3 billion in civil and criminal penalties.

Liang faces deportation to Germany following the completion of his sentence.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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