By on August 25, 2017

VW logo, Image: Volkswagen

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]

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26 Comments on “Former Volkswagen Diesel Engineer Headed to the Big House After Judge Makes an Example of Him...”

  • avatar

    “Cox made note of Liang’s comfortable pre-scandal lifestyle, which involved a swanky California home and quarter-million-dollar salary…”

    Swanky CA home on that salary…our definition of swanky must be quite different.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This is a stain on the engineering profession, which is often considered to rate highly for ethics.

    Not to be diversionary, but I really hope the courts convict people at higher levels than this.

  • avatar

    Minimum security prison is no picnic. The key is to either kick somebody’s ass the first day, or develop a system for somebody’s diesel emissions that allows the car to run in multiple modes based on steering and throttle inputs so it can fool the EPA. Then everything will be okay.

  • avatar

    Sad. I hope Trump does the right thing and pardons Liang. Next time don’t help the feds as they’ll backstab you.

  • avatar

    Was this guy retired and living in California, or was that a vacation home, or does VW do their engineering for US/Cal emissions in California?

    Just curious.

  • avatar

    I have no doubts that all of the VW engineers, who designed the fail safe system, were ordered to do so by their bosses, or if the engineers presented the idea to the bosses, the bosses approved it. These bosses, whom the engineers reported to, are the ones most responsible and should be jailed.

    • 0 avatar

      A few years back, some folks working for the Germans used the defense that they were “ordered to do so by their bosses”. Court didn’t look favorably on that defense.

  • avatar

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

    This is different than what I just heard on CBS news. CBS suggested Liang was significantly involved in the cover up and that’s the reason he was made an example of.

    Not saying TTAC is wrong, just that I’m hearing different versions.

  • avatar

    It’s my understanding that he was no mere engineer. In a more typical US-style org chart, he would probably have a title like “VP of Engineering”.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    I hope that the VW emissions cheating scandal and Takata’s airbag disaster will help some people understand that American companies aren’t uniquely corrupt. People are people, no matter how you group them.

    • 0 avatar

      Great question. Things happening in Korea, per Google.
      Chief (President):

      What’s really going on.
      Samsung / Hyundai:
      Chief (President):
      Note – I took the top articles. Keep digging and you’ll see the pattern continues.

      Why are Korea and Korean companies the media darlings?

  • avatar

    He is a scapegoat……Big guys get away
    He was convicted because he was already in the USA
    The Germans get a free pass because USA can’t get Germany

  • avatar

    “Hey little man, whatcha in here for?”

    “Rollin’ coal.”

  • avatar

    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….

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