James Liang guilty plea to be used by prosecutors to uncover Volkswagen's conspiracy.

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James Liang guilty plea to be used by prosecutors to uncover Volkswagen's conspiracy.

— Volkswagen engineer James Robert Liang, 62, has pleaded guilty for his part in VW's emissions cheating scandal, the first employee to fall victim to U.S. Department of Justice criminal charges.

Liang, of Newbury Park, California, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., to commit wire fraud and to violate the Clean Air Act.

According to the plea agreement, from 1983 until May 2008, Liang was an employee of Volkswagen and working in its diesel development department in Wolfsburg, Germany. Liang admitted that beginning in about 2006, he and his alleged co-conspirators started to design a new “EA 189” diesel engine for sale in the U.S.

The team of engineers were responsible for creating "clean diesel" engines that would be good for the environment and still pass strict emissions regulations.

As other automakers discovered with diesel engines, VW engineers knew fuel economy and power could be affected by meeting emissions standards. Liang and others knew a way around that was to install secret software to fool test machines and make the vehicles appear to pass the tests.

Liang admitted that he used the defeat device while working on the EA 189 and assisted in making the defeat device work.  In May 2008, Liang moved to the U.S. to assist in the launch of VW’s new clean diesel vehicles.

While working at VW’s testing facility in Oxnard, California, he has held the title of Leader of Diesel Competence.

Prosecutors allege a huge conspiracy that drove the emissions fraud for at least 10 years, a fraud that would still be going on if VW wouldn't have been caught.

Prosecutors also allege Volkswagen's management personnel are living in a fantasy by saying the wrongdoing was caused by a limited number of low-level employees.

Liang faces a maximum $250,000 fine and five years in prison, but it's questionable if he will see any prison time considering the history of federal criminal cases against automakers.

In the case of Volkswagen, the automaker harmed the environment and consumers, in comparison to General Motors and its ignition switches that killed and injured hundreds of people, yet not one GM employee saw a day in prison.

Those decisions about GM upset safety advocates, including Ralph Nader who called GM a "homicidal fugitive from justice" that "desecrates the memory of over 100 victims."

"In particular, the exoneration of all GM personnel gives new meaning to the surrender of federal law enforcement that remains impervious to the preventable hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries resulting from documented corporate criminal negligence or outright criminality throughout our country every year." - Ralph Nader

In addition to history, VW is a German company and dragging German citizens to the U.S. won't be easy unless those employees simply surrender, something not likely to happen.

Another difference with the VW fraud is that nothing about it was accidental as engineers and others knew the defeat devices would be used for the sole purpose of scamming regulators and the public.

Prosecutors will use testimony from Liang to reach deeper into the conspiracy and provide Liang a chance to greatly reduce any possible sentence.

Mr. Liang pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and is one of the top Volkswagen suspects named in a lawsuit filed against VW by the state of Vermont.

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