Former Volkswagen Diesel Engineer Headed to the Big House After Judge Makes an Example of Him

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

A former Volkswagen engineer who helped federal investigators after being linked to the diesel emissions scandal will cool his heels in an American prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox sentenced James Liang, 63, to a 40-month term today, tacking on a $200,000 fine for his involvement in the automaker’s diesel deception. Liang is the first Volkswagen employee prosecuted for having a role in the conspiracy.

Despite his assistance in the hunt for co-conspirators, it was clear authorities weren’t going to let Liang off the hook.

The engineer has deep roots at the automaker, having joined the Volkswagen team in 1983. Before leaving Germany for the company’s U.S. division in 2008, Liang assisted in developing the defeat device-equipped engines earmarked for North American distribution. The 2.0 and 3.0-liter turbodiesel engines, fitted in roughly half a million U.S. vehicles sold between 2009 and 2015, spewed tailpipe emissions up to 40 times the legal limit.

Until 2015, U.S. environmental regulators were none the wiser. VW engineers ensured the onboard emissions control devices worked only when the cars were undergoing emissions compliance tests.

Liang pleaded guilty in a U.S. District Court last September after being charged in June 2016.

Judge Cox, who called the conspiracy a “serious crime” and a “stunning fraud on the American consumer,” didn’t go easy on the engineer. Prosecutors had recommended a three-year prison term and $20,000 fine, while Liang’s lawyers sought home detention and community service. Liang ended up with more jail time and a much, much larger fine.

Cox made note of Liang’s comfortable pre-scandal lifestyle, which involved a swanky California home and quarter-million-dollar salary, as he handed down the sentence. Liang, he said, “didn’t want to walk away from this lifestyle, which would have been the right thing to do.”

While Liang’s lawyer characterized his client as a victim of “misguided loyalty” who wasn’t the “mastermind” behind the operation, the federal prosecutor disagreed. Liang’s engineering prowess was “pivotal” in concealing the defeat devices, Mark Chutkow argued. He added that prison time sends a strong message to the industry.

While indictments exist against several German nationals, there’s only one other VW employee facing possible jail time in the U.S. at this moment. Oliver Schmidt, VW’s former U.S. emissions compliance boss, pleaded guilty to conspiracy earlier this month. Authorities nabbed Schmidt at a Florida airport earlier this year as the German national made a stopover on his way home from a tropical vacation.

[Sources, Reuters, Bloomberg] [Image: Volkswagen]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Garrett Garrett on Aug 28, 2017

    "Hey little man, whatcha in here for?" "Rollin' coal."

  • Hydromatic Hydromatic on Aug 29, 2017

    I expect this to come back and bite the U.S. in the ass the next time GM, Ford or any other American company is involved in an international scandal. What's good for the goose....

  • Grg I am not sure that this would hold up in snow country. It used to be that people in snow country would not be caught dead in a white car. Now that white cars have become popular in the north, I can't tell you how many times I have seen white cars driving in the snow without lights. Almost all cars are less visible in a snow storm, or for that matter, rain storm, without lights. White ones become nearly invisible.
  • Douglas I have a 2018 BMW 740e PHEV, and love it. It has a modest electric only range compared to newer PHEV's (about 18 miles), but that gets me to the office and back each day. It has a small gas tank to make room for the battery, so only holds about 11 gallons. I easily go 600 or more miles per tank. I love it, and being able to take long road trips without having to plug in (it just operates like a regular Hybrid if you never plug it in). It charges in 75 minutes in my garage from a Level 2 charger I bought on Amazon for $350. Had an electrician add a dryer outlet beside the breaker box. It's the best of both worlds and I would definitely want a PHEV for my next car. 104,000 miles and ZERO problems with the powertrain components (so far).
  • Panther Platform I had a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII so I have a soft spot for this. The Mark VIII styling was not appreciated by all.
  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...