Oliver Schmidt, a former VW manager who worked for the German automaker in Auburn Hills, Mich., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Detroit to charges of conspiracy and violating the Clean Air Act in Volkswagen’s diesel emissions cheating scandal. He is to be sentenced Dec. 6 and could face a seven-year prison sentence, according to his plea agreement.
A federal court judge in Detroit sentenced a former Volkswagen manager Wednesday to 7 years in prison and ordered him to pay $400,000 in the company’s massive diesel emissions cheating scandal, but Judge Sean Cox made clear that justice has not yet been served.
Cox described the ex-manager, Oliver Schmidt, as a significant player in Volkswagen’s attempted cover-up and an opportunist, but he noted that “senior management has not been held accountable” in a case that has hurt both consumers who thought they were getting a good product and blue collar and middle management workers at VW.
Still, Cox had harsh words for Schmidt, noting that he is highly educated as a mechanical engineer, does not suffer from the substance abuse issues that defendants in other cases face, and comes from a good family.
“You saw this attempted cover-up of this massive fraud in the United States as an opportunity to impress senior management at VW and therefore advance your career at at VW,” Cox said.
Cox sided with prosecutors in their sentencing recommendation. The defense, led by attorney David DuMouchel of Detroit, had requested 40 months and a $100,000 fine.
Prosecutors portrayed Oliver Schmidt as uncooperative and said he destroyed documents pertinent to the investigation and encouraged subordinates to do the same, lied about his involvement and was a key player in the conspiracy, which cost VW about $17 billion in civil settlements and an extra $4.3 billion to settle criminal charges.
The company installed so-called defeat devices, a type of software, on its diesel vehicles that were designed to make the vehicles perform differently in road and test conditions, which led to significantly higher levels of pollution than permitted.
Schmidt’s lawyers said he was a 48-year-old engineer with no criminal history who was “less culpable” than others, including a co-defendant who has already been sentenced to 40 months. They submitted numerous letters from family and friends attesting to Schmidt’s character in an effort to convince the judge to consider a lesser sentence. Schmidt pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy and violation of the clean air act, both felonies. A charge of wire fraud was dismissed as part of his plea.
Schmidt worked at Volkswagen’s research and development center in Auburn Hills, where he was general manager of the company’s Engineering and Environmental Office. He was also the automaker’s liaison with the U.S. EPA and the California Air Resources Board, and his interaction with regulators and decision not to disclose the existence of the defeat devices were key parts of the case.
In a letter to the judge last month, Schmidt described the humiliation of the ordeal, including having his mugshot become the international face of the scandal, and claims to have been “misused by my own company” and misled by his superiors.
“After reading the government’s discovery during my many sleepless nights in my prison cell, I’ve learned that my superiors that claimed to me to have not been involved earlier than me at VW knew about this for many, many years. In fact, somewhat to my detriment, much of what I now know about what transpired here I learned from reading the discovery,” Schmidt wrote.
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Contact Eric D. Lawrence: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence.
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