Volkswagen Engineer Pleads Guilty to Dieselgate Criminal Charges

James Liang is looking at a maximum prison sentence of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.

byAaron Brown|
Volkswagen Engineer Pleads Guilty to Dieselgate Criminal Charges

A long-time Volkswagen engineer plead guilty to intending on defrauding U.S. regulators and consumers in U.S. District Court on Friday. It is the first criminal charge that has occurred in the year the Justice Department has been investigating the German automaker over the Dieselgate scandal.

James Liang, 62, delivered his plea in federal court on Friday and is cooperating with investigators, Bloomberg reports. The engineer is being charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act, according to The Detroit News

Bloomberg states that Lang worked with VW at its headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany for 25 years until he moved to America in 2008. After coming to the U.S., Liang became the head of the automaker's America-based Diesel Competence unit—a position which saw him reporting regularly to his colleagues back in Germany, prosecutors said.

“I know VW did not disclose the defeat device to U.S. regulators in order to sell the cars in the U.S.,” Liang said to the judge in open court Friday. “That’s what makes me guilty.”

In Liang's indictment, several incriminating emails were found that showed how careless the engineer had been regarding the emissions test-evading cheats. “If this goes through without problems, the function is probably truly watertight! ;.)” an employee wrote to Liang in an email in September 2013 regarding a car that was about to be tested.

Following his plea, Liang is looking at serving a maximum of five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000, depending on how lenient the prosecutors decide to be. It seems likely Liang's plea and active cooperation with investigators will figuratively put some heat on some higher-ups at VW, but we won't know for sure until the engineer is sentenced on January 11th.​

Liang's plea can be found in full here. For more on the story, check here for the U.S. Department of Justice's full statement.