The decision against James Liang is considerably harsher than what prosecutors were asking for.
The first prison sentence has been handed down in the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, and if it’s a sign of what’s to come, things don’t bode well for guilty VW executives. The Detroit News reports that James Liang, VW’s former engineer who was at the forefront of the scandal, was sentenced to 40 months in prison and a $200,000 fine. For the record, prosecutors were asking for a three-year sentence with a $20,000 fine. So yeah, ouch doesn’t quite cut it.
The decision was handed down by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox, and it appears he’s using Liang as an example of what not to do when your bosses assign a task that's slightly illegal. Liang was involved with creating the infamous software that allowed certain Volkswagen diesel models to detect when emissions testing was taking place, thus altering parameters to meet emission requirements only during testing. The rest of the time, the cars are believed to have emitted up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide.
It’s not that Liang was just involved with developing the software. He was also the main person in contact with federal regulators on the situation, which began with him lying about the software. Liang's defense painted him as a remorseful man in a difficult position, basically just doing what he was told while trying to be a loyal worker. Prosecutors argued – successfully we might add – that Liang knew what was going on and had plenty of opportunity to protest or blow this whistle, but instead chose company over legality.
“You were an important and key player in a very serious crime,” Judge Cox reportedly said to Liang.
What does this mean for other VW executives awaiting their fate? Oliver Schmidt may want to get comfortable with an extended stay behind bars – the former head of Volkswagen’s environmental and engineering center in Michigan pled guilty earlier this month on two charges of conspiracy to defraud the federal government and violation of the Clean Air Act. He faces up to seven years in prison.
Source: The Detroit News