By on February 24, 2017


Based in Germany and nabbed by federal agents in Florida, Volkswagen’s one-time top emissions compliance manager for the U.S. made an appearance in a federal courtroom in Detroit today.

Indicted, along with five others, on charges of conspiring to defraud the U.S. and violating the Clean Air Act, Oliver Schmidt isn’t about to face down hard time without a fight. The executive pleaded not guilty to the charges, reports The Detroit News.

Before taking on a role that should have placed him safely out of reach of American authorities, Schmidt, 48, was general manager of Volkswagen’s Engineering and Environmental Office in Auburn Hills, Michigan. There, from 2012 to early 2015, he served as a liaison between VW and the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board.

Those agencies ultimately blew the lid of the scandal, but by that time Schmidt was based out of VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. Out of reach, but not out of mind.

An opportunity arose in early January when Schmidt traveled to Cuba for a vacation. The return flight made a stopover in Miami, where FBI agents pounced. In its affidavit, the agency laid out Schmidt’s alleged involvement in a decade-long plan to deceive regulators, including his early knowledge (and denial of) the evidence EPA and CARB held against the company.

In a 2014 email to a colleague, which the FBI claims was written after West Virginia University researchers discovered the company’s soaring real-world diesel emissions, Schmidt stated, “It should first be decided whether we are honest.”

The former executive is facing up to 27 years for the various charges. His lawyer plans to seek bond, though Schmidt has in the past been considered a flight risk.

[Image: SalFalco/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

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18 Comments on “Volkswagen’s Top Emissions Man Pleads ‘Not Guilty’ in Detroit Courtroom...”

  • avatar

    This is a total non-event. Unless one is a cooperating witness (and obviously he was not), everybody always pleads Not Guilty during the initial arraignment. A plea bargain comes afterwards.

    At least we aren’t treated to the boilerplate lie of “My client looks forward to fighting these outrageous accusations in open court.” Truth: Nobody looks forward to trial; everybody involved (except the defense lawyer) wishes for the matter to be resolved in their favor before it gets to that very expensive point.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “It should first be decided whether we are honest.”

    How considerate.

    Detail question: The scandal broke on Sept 18, 2015, but I can’t recall how much earlier WVU researchers discovered the problem. Did it really go back to 2014, or is that a typo?

    • 0 avatar

      No the initial findings were more than a year before it became a widely known scandal. VW had already released a “fix” hoping to get the regulators off their back that was just more of the same, IE run the emission compliant mode for 480 seconds instead of the 240 seconds of the CARB test.

  • avatar

    How do you say “you’ll never take me alive, coppers” in German?

  • avatar

    A semi diesel turns out 1,000’s of times the tiny little VW engine puts out.
    Yet: … the reality of burn temperature and its relationship to NOx numbers give semis leeway and passenger cars none. Aren’t the ignorant technocrats behind the “hallowed regulations” the real culprits? All the diesel car guys are guilty of is giving the world a 45-55 mpg car in spite of illogical regulations. Hell … a ref restricting diesel car sales in urban areas would accomplish the intended goal with more wisdom than a one size fits all approach that results in no high mpg diesels being able to be offered anywhere.
    Let’s not forget the results of Anerica’s greatest hyper-car effort ……. the great PNGV of the 1990’s.
    All… and I mean every one… of the 80 mpg full size family passenger cars from the PNGV was a hybrid… with a small turbo diesel st it’s core.
    If Anerica’s greater automotive thinkers concluded this was the ideal drivetrain… why-who the Sam shill gave an ignorant technocrat authority to make that very drivetrain illegal? America is soooo smart in so many ways. Yet st the same time America can be sooo downright stupid-ignorant-naive-gullible- – take yer pick.

    • 0 avatar

      No, a semi does not put out “1,000s times” the NoX of a VW TDI. That would actually be physically impossible, as it would require the engine to emit more NoX than the total mass of exhaust coming out the tailpipe.

    • 0 avatar

      “A semi diesel turns out 1,000’s of times the tiny little VW engine puts out.”

      Not anymore. These days a new, emissions-compliant semi engine is putting out a small fraction of the NOx that a cheaty VW TDI is.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Diesel trucks are orders of magnitude cleaner than they were just 20 years ago.

      Diesel trucks carry the vast majority of the nation’s economy on their backs, so their pollution (albeit much lower now) is tolerated.

      One reason passenger car diesels don’t get a pass is because they’re inefficiently carrying just a few people around, not 25 tons of goods. And, in Volkswagen’s case, their sins were intentional.

  • avatar

    I am still waiting to see any GM executives indicted for actually killing over 125 of their customers. The US will act against foreign auto makers but turn a blind eye to wrongdoing by domestic manufacturers. I guess that foreign makers do not provide the correct level of bribes, I mean campaign contributions, as domestic companies.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      We keep having the same conversation.

      GM’s problem was due to incompetence; VW’s was due to intentional deception.

      The law judges these situations much differently. The law places a lot of weight on intent, not just outcome. That’s why there are degrees of homicide. That’s why a drunk driver whose mistake killed someone might get out of jail long before a banker who bilked millions of dollars from his customers.

      There isn’t a shred of evidence to indicate GM willfully killed its customers. The financial settlements are a way of them saying “we’re sorry this preventable tragedy happened”, not “we decided to kill your loved one but got caught; here’s a check”.

      And, this has nothing to do with foreign or domestic mfrs.

      Even GM’s greatest detractors can see these distinctions; why can’t you?

      • 0 avatar

        From a consumer standpoint, the GM ignition switch issue is troubling because of a breakdown in quality control and other processes (like not changing the part number).

        VW, on the other hand, planned to cheat from the get go.

        One case may be negligence, but there doesn’t appear to be criminal intent. The other case, well, there’s a reason why Mr. Schmidt was at the Federal courthouse.

      • 0 avatar

        “Even GM’s greatest detractors can see these distinctions; why can’t you?”

        Charlie effed-up in America, had to skeedaddle to Mayhico, and it’s America’s fault.

      • 0 avatar

        He is a troll. He keeps repeating the same line in all TDI topics (google his username and ttac for a full list) and people keep replying with the same rebutals. He will never read your posts and he will repeat the statement in the next TDI topic.

    • 0 avatar

      1. GM was guilty of negligence and incompetence. There was no willful criminal activity.
      2. VW’s crime was premeditated and its consequences were understood from Day One.
      3. GM’s ignition switches weren’t identified as the root cause of the crashes and deaths for quite a long time, because it is exceptionally difficult to do so.

      Approximately 18 people die daily in GM cars. Over the course of 10 years, that works out to over 65000 deaths in GM cars. How were they to know that 0.2% of them were attributable to faulty ignition switches? It’s not like GM has operators standing by to evaluate every death in their vehicles, particularly when other factors like poor maintenance, speed, alcohol, and weather are involved.

      There is no moral or legal equivalence between these two cases.

      • 0 avatar

        and people keep forgetting that the two scandals are under the jurisdiction of two different agencies. GM’s ignition switch problem was NHTSA’s reign, VW’s emissions cheating was under the EPA. these agencies have completely different enforcement methods and ways to assess penalties. So b!tching about what happened to one company vs. the other is to display a fairly broad lack of knowledge about a lot of things.

        of course, when you ask one of these “there’s so much over-regulation!” people what regulations they think are too much, they never really have a reasonable answer.

  • avatar
    Dr. Claw

    Meh. At the rate things are going, The Clean Air Act might not even exist in this country anymore.

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