VW Diesel Cheat - Volkswagen Engineer Pleads Guilty in TDI Emissions Scandal

The first Volkswagen employee to face criminal charges relating to the ongoing diesel emissions scandal has entered a guilty plea.

The Detroit News reports that James Robert Liang, 62, appeared in U.S. District Court on Friday in Detroit to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government to commit wire fraud in violating the Clean Air Act. Liang faces a penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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Liang, whose name first appeared in a lawsuit against VW filed in New York State in July, allegedly engineered a diesel emissions defeat device for the Volkswagen Jetta powered by the 2.0-liter TDI engine. He reportedly began developing the device in 2006, and oversaw testing of the device at a Volkswagen facility in California in 2014 and 2015.

The Department of Justice report states, "according to Liang's admissions, when he and his co-conspirators realized that they could not design a diesel engine that would meet the stricter U.S. emissions standards, they designed and implemented software to recognize whether a vehicle was undergoing standard U.S. emissions testing on a dynamometer or being driven on the road under normal driving conditions (the defeat device), in order to cheat the emissions test. Liang admitted that he used the defeat device while working on the EA 189 and assisted in making the defeat device work."

The Detroit News reports that Liang was also indicted for violating the Clean Air Act, which includes a two-year prison term and $250,000 fine. He did not enter a plea to the charge as part of an agreement with the Department of Justice.

Liang was employed at VW's world headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, starting in 1983. He relocated to the automaker's California facility in 2008, where he held the title Leader of Diesel Competence.

This plea marks the first instance of an individual VW employee being charged with a crime in the automaker's ongoing diesel emissions scandal. Volkswagen first admitted to tampering with emissions control devices in September of 2015, eventually revealing that defeat devices were built in to up to 11 million diesel-powered vehicles worldwide.

Experts say that affected diesel Volkswagens emit up to 40 times the legal limit of harmful pollutants in real-world driving, a result of defeat devices which shut off pollution controls whenever the vehicle detects that it is not undergoing government emissions testing. The automaker has agreed to spend more than $16 billion in the U.S. alone to address environmental fallout and claims brought by owners of the affected vehicles.