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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
former volkswagen diesel engineer headed to the big house after judge makes an

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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  • 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....

  • MelanieRichardson GOOD
  • El scotto @jwee; Sir, a great many of us believe that Musk is somewhere (pretty high) on the spectrum and move on.I work on the fringes of IT. Most of my presentations get picked over extensively and intensely at meetings. I'm smart enough to know I'm not that smart and willingly take advice from the IT crew. I bring them Duck Doughnuts too. We also keep a box of Crayolas in the meeting room.At one meeting an IT guy got way into the details of my presentation, the meeting went long as we discussed my target audience. Same IT guy insisted it was a disaster and would fail miserable and that I was stupid. Yeah, F-boms get dropped at our meetings. I finally had enough and asked if he was such an expert, did he want to stand up in front of 30 senior executives and give the presentation? His response was a flat "NO". He got the box of Crayolas. For you non-military types that means shut up and color. Musk is the same as that IT guy, lots of gyrations but not much on follow-through. Someone just needs to hand him a box of Crayolas.
  • FreedMike The FJ Cruiser would be a better comeback candidate. The gang back at Toyota HQ must be looking at all those Broncos flying off Ford lots and kicking themselves.
  • Tassos 2015 was only 7 years ago. $58k is still a whole lot of $ to pay for a vehicle. FOrtunately one can buy a flagship vehicle with great active and passive safety for half this amount, if one does the SMART thing and buys a pre-owned luxury flagship vehicle. they have historically been SCREAMING BARGAINS. A breadvan on stilts SUV, wether the more compact Macan or the more bloated Cayenne will never pass as a Flagship Vehicle. No matter how well it drives or how reliable it suprisingly is. It still is a breadvan on stilts.
  • Sean Ohsee Bring back the 100 series and its I6 diesel.
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