By on October 22, 2015


Complaints filed against Volkswagen of America are using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to allege that the automaker knowingly committed fraud across state lines, court documents show.

The law, which was created in the 1970s to take down the U.S. mafia, could have serious ramifications for Volkswagen, who admitted that its cars illegally polluted.

Accusing the automaker of violating RICO Act would mean that lawsuits against the automaker could be more lucrative and amplify damage to the automaker.

According to Rick Wynkoop, an automotive attorney in Denver, plaintiffs suing Volkswagen for violating RICO statutes have a higher burden of pleading than an ordinary case. The claims need to be specifically targeted, such as fraud.

In a Southern California case filed against Volkswagen, the plaintiffs accused the automaker of some serious mob shiz:

VW AG directed VW America to engage in fraudulent activities that affected interstate commerce, which included obtaining fraudulent certificates of conformity from the EPA and the design, manufacture, testing, sale and distribution of the Defective Vehicles to consumers all over the United States. VW AG used VW America to manufacture and sell the Defective Vehicles throughout the United States with defeat devices that purposefully circumvented federal and state emissions laws, and VW America operated its largest emissions testing center in California. …


In devising and executing the illegal scheme, the (Volkswagen) devised and knowingly carried out a material scheme and/or artifice to defraud (VW owners) or to obtain money from (VW owners) by means of materially false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises, or omissions of material facts. For the purpose of executing the illegal scheme, the (Volkswagen) committed these racketeering acts, which number in the thousands, intentionally and knowingly with the specific intent to advance the illegal scheme.

So, basically, Volkswagen and the mob are the same thing, according to court documents.

The RICO Act has been used increasingly to take down corporations in the past few years, so the charges aren’t entirely unfounded. The U.S. Department of Justice recently said worldwide soccer officials from FIFA violated RICO laws by using influence and power to extort bribes from other countries.

(In both cases, the Justice Department and plaintiffs suing Volkswagen have the difficult task of proving some of our laws are applicable overseas, something that the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t thought so highly of.)

The charges against VW aren’t completely unfounded. In September, the Justice Department charged General Motors with wire fraud in connection with its defective ignition switches that resulted in 124 deaths. Under RICO statues, wire and mail fraud would need to be proved by the plaintiffs — perhaps by emails found on seized computers? — with two incidents over a 10-year period to constitute a “pattern.”

But if proven, Wyknoop points out, the RICO allegations could mean Volkswagen would pay significantly more to the plaintiffs.

“It’s a tougher claim to prove, but RICO provides for treble damages and attorney fees. It’s a powerful tool to go against businesses that break the law. Really hasn’t changed much since they went after mob with it back in the ’70s,” he said.

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29 Comments on “Lawsuits Against Volkswagen Using Mob-inspired Law to Takedown Automaker...”

  • avatar

    Good movie! :: Meanwhile GM kills 120 + people and pays a small fine.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Since you are a broken record: GM didn’t kill 120+ people.

      • 0 avatar

        @SCE, deflection seems to be the only tactic vw fanboys have left. Saying things like “they MAY have” or “alledgedly” wont work because vw admitted fault.

        Failure to realize the difference between an unforseen defect (ignition switches failing on cars 5-10 years old) and intentional deception (vw designing a program that’s intention from the very start was to break the law, and then flooding media with advertisements claiming the opposite is true, ie. “Clean Diesel”) clearly shows the ignorance by those insinuating that GM’s situation is supposedly worse. The only thing GM really did wrong was not recalling the cars when the problem was discovered, and THAT is why they paid a “small” fine (I wish my bank account was that small!).

        Seeing as to how NOx is very toxic and causes major respritory issues, vw’s scheme will end up killing far more than 120 people, its just not as easy to show who died as a direct result. And, for crying out loud, it was INTENTIONAL, as in not a defect that showed up years later, but rather deception from the very beginning. GM did not INTENTIONALLY create faulty ignition switches in order to kill people/sell more cars, it just intentionally delayed the recall, which again is why it was punished (as was FCA and others for the same thing). vw clearly decided that illegally polluting up to 40x the allowed amount was worth it to gain better mpg/performance in an effort to sell cars, public health be damned.

        The more these idiots keep harping about GM when the subject is vw, the more foolish they look and the weaker their position becomes. Attempting to draw similarities between the two situations is either obtuse or downright ignorant. About as mature as a little kid saying “but s/he started it!” when being punished after being caught doing something wrong.

        • 0 avatar

          Been to Paris and Los Angeles. Guess which city had smog warnings? It was not Paris. LA, would compete which Chinese cities for appalling pollution

          • 0 avatar

            Paris is also not geographically located in such a way that pollution gets trapped over the city rather than blown away.

            The same is true of Mexico City, or is all that pollution really VW’s fault?

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle


            Did you not even bother to look-up “smog warnings Paris,” or something similar before writing that?

            There have been many recent and well-publicized smog warnings in Paris. The fact that there wasn’t one on the day you were there doesn’t mean it’s not an issue.

          • 0 avatar

            @heavy handle,
            Every major city has a smog index, Paris is on par with many cities in Europe and in the US.
            Los Angeles like the Chinese Cities has pollution that obliterates the Landscape and is very dangerous too your health. Presumably some other cities in the US are as bad

        • 0 avatar

        • 0 avatar

          Got one for you :)

          The Vauxhall/Chev/Opel apparently also has a disconcerting habit of bursting into flames unexpectedly.

      • 0 avatar

        And then hid the evidence just as VW. Except where as VW *may have* GM actually hid the direct evidence that the switch was actively killing people every year… and got caught doing it.

        Both companies should pay the (never going to happen) VW level fine of 16 billion $.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh and here .. its 124 dead people ::

    • 0 avatar

      GM was unique in being too sloppy to have an ignition switch stay on.

      VW just did what every other automaker does, game the test system. They just took things a bit too far. Automakers are supposed to make their cars perform artificially well during test cycle accelleration and speed, but not actually detect that their cars are in a test room.

      This is really a referendum on diesel, not VW. Nobody can make it work in the real world.

      The old 1970s Metra trains in my area probably pollute, each, as much a 1,000,000 new TDIs, but the government can’t afford to replace them because then various government parasites (from ticket takers that could not get jobs at WalMart to redundant managers) cost too much with their salaries, benefits and bloated pensions. Instead we have outdated trains smoking like they run on coal.

      The people that ride those trains face much bigger health risks than any TDI owner.

      VW is lucky, this crisis will force it to abandon a dead end technology, diesel, early.

  • avatar

    This is an unintended positive effect of a generally bad trend: RICO has been used in recent years for a much, much broader range of offenses than it was intended for.

    The one silver lining is that at the same time, corporate-bribed governments have been increasingly squeezing the power of individuals (and classes of them — there’s a potentially sweeping Supreme Court decision upcoming on this) to sue corporations for damages. So in this case, maybe two wrongs do make a right.

    • 0 avatar

      “maybe two wrongs do make a right”

      Happens all the time, like with the mixer valve in your shower.

      Too hot + too cold = Aaahhhhh…

    • 0 avatar

      The problem with RICO is that it was made so incredibly dangerous *precisely* to limit use. Basically Congress has established that corporations are above the law and that executives (but not underlings) can not be held accountable for anything a “corporation does”.

      Since the Mob can simply create a corporate shell the same way Enron could, something eventually had to be done, i.e. RICO. So every once in a while the witch burned for the mobs in DC happens to be a corporation.

  • avatar

    Mr. Cole, you are careless with language. “So, basically, Volkswagen and the mob are the same thing, according to court documents.” Actually, the “court documents” are merely allegations by self-interested plaintiffs.

    “The RICO Act has been used increasingly to take down corporations in the past few years, so the charges aren’t entirely unfounded.” Actually, even if other corporations have been ensnared by the RICO act, all we have at present is unproven allegations against VW.

    You may think VW is unmitigated evil, but the national conversation about this topic would be improved if we could move on to determining exactly what the practical difference is between a compliant and non-compliant TDI. My guess is that a VW diesel “spewing” pollution is cleaner than, say, a ten year old Town Car.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah they’re *highly* “non-compliant” though, if we must oversimplify. Forty times over, actually. But it was highly *gangster* of VW though!

      Except if you’d rather suck on a TDI tailpipe than a new ’05 Towncar, go ahead.

    • 0 avatar

      Correct. Problem trying to force those 10yr old clunkers off the road. I know a Paris Mayor wanted all old Diesel and Gas vehicles off the road in Paris. Do not know what became of that.

      • 0 avatar

        Paris has a cataclysmic problem on its hands. Even getting all pre emission junk off Paris streets, TODAY, could easily cost hundreds of thousand of its citizens their lives from early deaths and untold billions in added health care costs, just from dirty, disgusting diesels *alone*.

  • avatar

    BREAKING: Dieselgate Losing Blog Mojo
    Clicks Down 4000% From Peak

  • avatar

    Volkswagen’s arrogance that they could get away with the cheating software is going to RICOchet back on them big time. AutoExpress says it may well run into the 100 billion euro, noticing all the claims all over the world. Btw, even more interesting is that Germany, France and Italy are against the European Commission’s intention to have stricter testing by 2017.

  • avatar

    It was a 100.0% winning bet that RICO statutes would be invoked.

    Bend over, this is going to sting a little…

  • avatar

    Remember folks – you heard “RICO + VW” here first, on TTAC – from me.

  • avatar

    God, who cares… the wall to wall coverage of the minutiae is dreadfully sleep inducing. The FEDS have their panties in a wad over something all of the manufacturers have been doing in one way or another for years.

  • avatar

    I’ll admit, I’m amused. Volkswagen is now right up there with the Hells Angels, Outlaws, Pagans and Bandidos. Which gives me a slight change in attitude. I’ll still happily ride with any Outlaws, and am willing to be seen in the company of Pagans.

    Under no condition will I ever have the desire to be in the presence of Hells Angels or Volkswagen executives. Or even have it rumored that I have been.

  • avatar

    RICO is one of the most poisonous laws in our system. Prosecutors don’t need to prove much, just mostly make up accusations

  • avatar

    Re the headline, “Takedown” is a noun, as in “Joe participated in the takedown.” The verb form is to “take down,” two words.

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