Nabbed in Miami Bathroom, Volkswagen Executive Gets Seven Years for Role in Diesel Conspiracy

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
nabbed in miami bathroom volkswagen executive gets seven years for role in diesel

The judge didn’t go easy on the former Volkswagen executive. Oliver Schmidt, 48, former general manager of Volkswagen’s U.S. Environment and Engineering Office, was sentenced to seven years in prison and handed a $400,000 fine Wednesday for his role in covering up the automaker’s diesel emissions deception.

Schmidt’s punishment is the maximum allowed under the plea deal he reached in August. The executive pleaded guilty to two charges relating to the conspiracy to violate the country’s Clean Air Act with a fleet of pollution-spewing diesel cars.

“It is my opinion that you are a key conspirator in this scheme to defraud the United States,” U.S. District Judge Sean Cox of Detroit told Schmidt. “You saw this as your opportunity to shine … and climb the corporate ladder at VW.”

The sentencing wraps up a legal saga that began, unpleasantly, as Schmidt sat on a Miami toilet during a vacation stopover.

The executive was indeed rising up the ranks at the time. After his stint at the automaker’s Auburn Hills Environment and Engineering office (which handles such things as emissions compliance), Schmidt left the U.S. in 2015 for a position in his home country of Germany. There, he learned of the scope of the company’s emissions cheating.

Schmidt then conspired with a number of executives ( since indicted by the U.S.) to cover up the fact that the company’s 2.0-liter diesel cars spewed as much as 40 times the legal amount of smog-causing nitrogen oxide pollution. The vehicles in question, roughly half a million in the U.S., tricked regulators by only activating the emissions control software when the car “knew” it was undergoing testing. Reviewers heaped praise on the 2.0-liter TDI models, sold under the “clean diesel” banner, for their power and efficiency.

As Volkswagen attempted to certify its 2016 diesel vehicles in the U.S., it was partly Schmidt’s job to keep U.S. regulators from discovering the truth. The rest, of course, is history. $25 billion worth of it.

Schmidt’s sentencing comes nearly a year after his arrest. As Germany does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S., German felons or suspects are safe from arrest and prosecution, so long as they stay within the country’s borders. Earlier this year, rumors arose of VW employees being warned not to leave the country.

Schmidt, however, made a fateful mistake. He decided to take a Caribbean vacation last winter — one that included a stopover in Miami on the return flight. There, at Miami International Airport, federal agents who were tracking Schmidt’s movements lay in wait.

In a letter to Judge Cox, Schmidt described what happened next.

“Being arrested on the toilet of the airport in Miami by (eight) law enforcement officers and then being led to my wife in handcuffs was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life up until then,” he wrote. “This humiliation was surpassed by the public shaming that followed. My mugshot became the face of Dieselgate worldwide.”

No doubt the occupant of the next stall has a story to tell.

Schmidt was arraigned, then cooled his heels in a Detroit jail for the rest of the year after being denied bail. The former exec broke down in court as he described the past year.

“I made bad decisions and for that I am sorry,” Schmidt said. However, the man’s remorse didn’t sway Cox, nor U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney Benjamin Singer, who claimed Schmidt was “part of the decision making process” at Volkswagen and actively helped cover up the company’s crimes.

“Every time he chose to lie,” Singer said.

In August, former VW engineer James Liang, who had a hand in developing the illegal engines, was sentenced to 40 months in prison and handed a $200,000 fine by the same judge. Following his arrest, Liang helped authorities track down his co-conspirators.

[Sources: The Detroit News, Reuters] [Image: Volkswagen USA]

Join the conversation
4 of 24 comments
  • Lou_BC "Owners of affected Wrangles" Does a missing "r" cancel an extra stud?
  • Slavuta One can put a secret breaker that will disable the starter or spark plug supply. Even disabling headlights or all lights will bring more trouble to thieves than they wish for. With no brake lights, someone will hit from behind, they will leave fingerprints inside. Or if they steal at night, they will have to drive with no lights. Any of these things definitely will bring attention.I remember people removing rotor from under distributor cup.
  • Slavuta Government Motors + Government big tech + government + Federal police = fascist surveillance state. USSR surveillance pales...
  • Johnster Another quibble, this time about the contextualization of the Thunderbird and Cougar, and their relationship to the prestigious Continental Mark. (I know. It's confusing.) The Thunderbird/Mark IV platform introduced for the 1971 model year was apparently derived from the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform (also introduced for the 1971 model year), but should probably be considered different from it.As we all know, the Cougar shared its platform with the Ford Mustang up through the 1973 model year, moving to the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform for the 1974 model year. This platform was also shared with the failed Ford Gran Torino Elite, (introduced in February of 1974, the "Gran Torino" part of the name was dropped for the 1975 and 1976 model years).The Thunderbird/Mark series duo's separation occurred with the 1977 model year when the Thunderbird was downsized to share a platform with the LTD II/Cougar. The 1977 model year saw Mercury drop the "Montego" name and adopt the "Cougar" name for all of their mid-sized cars, including plain 2-doors, 4-doors and and 4-door station wagons. Meanwhile, the Cougar PLC was sold as the "Cougar XR-7." The Cougar wagon was dropped for the 1978 model year (arguably replaced by the new Zephyr wagon) while the (plain) 2-door and 4-door models remained in production for the 1978 and 1979 model years. It was a major prestige blow for the Thunderbird. Underneath, the Thunderbird and Cougar XR-7 for 1977 were warmed-over versions of the failed Ford Elite (1974-1976), while the Mark V was a warmed-over version of the previous Mark IV.
  • Stuart de Baker This is depressing, and I don't own one of these.