Engineer pleads guilty in emissions case
DETROIT — A Volkswagen engineer has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in the company’s emissions cheating scandal, advancing a criminal investigation by agreeing to testify against others.
James Robert Liang, 62, of Newbury Park, Calif., entered the plea Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government through wire fraud.
Liang is the first to enter a plea in the case, and his cooperation is a breakthrough in the Justice De- partment’s probe into the scandal.
Government documents say others were involved and point to multiple emails in German that likely came from VW employees in Wolfsburg, Germany.
Volkswagen has admitted to installing software on about 500,000 2-liter diesel engines in VW and Audi models in the U.S. that turned pollution controls on during government tests and turned them off while on the road.
The Environmental Protection Agency found that the cars emitted up to 40 times the legal limit for nitrogen oxide, which can cause human respiratory problems.
Liang, whobeganworkfor VW in 1983 in Germany, and also worked in the U.S., was indicted in June ononecount of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and another count of violating the Clean Air Act.
According to a plea agreement unsealed Friday, Liang admitted that he and others planned software, knownasa defeat device, that could cheat U.S. emissions tests after recognizing that a diesel engine they were designing could not meet customer expectations and stricter emissions standards.
Using the defeat device enabled VW to obtain a certificate from the EPA needed to sell the cars in the U.S.
Liang pleaded guilty to the VW says it installed software on 500,000 2-liter diesel engines in various models that turned pollution controls on during government tests and turned them off on the road. conspiracy charge before Judge Sean Cox. He will be sentenced on Jan. 11. The judge said that guidelines call for Liang to serve five years in prison. He also could be fined up to $250,000.
VWwouldn’tcommenton the plea but said Friday that it continues to cooperate in the investigation.
Liang, who wore a dark suit and tie, mostly responded “yes” or “no” to the judge’s questions at the Friday hearing, but also read a brief statement in which he admitted to the fraud.
The judge noted that he is not a U.S. citizen and could be subject to immigration action.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow told the judge that two or more of Liang’s colleagues also knew about the conspiracy.
According to the indictment, Liang and his coconspirators were tasked with designing new diesel engines for the U.S. market that complied with stricter emissions standards for nitrogen oxide emissions that went into effect in 2007. Within VW, it was referred to as the US ‘07 project.
Prosecutors say Liang and the other engineers realized that they could not design a diesel vehicle that both met the stricter U.S. emission standards and performed well enough to satisfy customers.