CARS.COM — A Volkswagen engineer has pled guilty to criminal charges from the U.S. Department of Justice related to his role in the automaker’s ongoing diesel emissions scandal. The DOJ announced today that engineer James Robert Liang pleaded guilty and entered a plea agreement to cooperate with the government’s investigation.
Liang, a 62-year-old California man, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, defraud the U.S. and violate the EPA’s Clean Air Act. The indictment, announced today, took place June 1 under a federal grand jury.
Citing the plea agreement, the DOJ described Liang’s role as one of key input in VW’s emissions crisis. He worked in the automaker’s diesel development department in Germany from 1983 to 2008 and began to design VW’s now-infamous EA189 diesel four-cylinder in about 2006. Unable to meet stricter EPA emissions requirements, Liang and his fellow conspirators implemented the so-called “defeat device” at the heart of the scandal to evade emissions tests. Liang moved to the U.S. in 2008 to work on VW’s launch of its “clean diesel” engines, even attending meetings where VW misled EPA officials about the compliance of their vehicles.
The investigation remains ongoing. The automaker has already agreed to spend an estimated $16.5 billion to settle civil litigation regarding 2.0-liter diesel vehicles, pay environmental reparations, compensate dealers and resolve state lawsuits. Other civil penalties and criminal liabilities, including those from the DOJ investigation, are still to be determined — but, as the Detroit Free Press notes, this is the department’s first criminal charge.
The scandal, which broke nearly a year ago, affects U.S. owners of about 550,000 diesel (TDI) vehicles from the 2009 to 2016 model years under the automaker’s Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen brands.