A Volkswagen manager was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and will pay a $400,000 fine for participating in the German auto giant’s emissions fraud, the second employee to face time behind bars in the U.S. for his role in the longstanding conspiracy to deceive government officials and customers.
Oliver Schmidt, 48 years old, received the sentence from U.S. District Judge Sean Cox on Wednesday afternoon during a hearing in a Detroit federal court. Mr. Schmidt in August pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and violating environmental law for his role in helping Volkswagen evade U.S. emissions requirements for diesel-powered vehicles.
Mr. Schmidt admitted to concealing from regulators Volkswagen’s use of illegal software on nearly 600,000 vehicles that allowed them to dupe government emissions tests while polluting far beyond legal limits on the road.
Volkswagen in March pleaded guilty as a corporation to criminal charges stemming from the deception. The company has said the improper software is on nearly 11 million vehicles globally.
Judge Cox called the fraud a “very serious and troubling crime against our economic system,” after handing down the sentence. He said Mr. Schmidt “knowingly” misled investigators and “actively participated” in the destruction of documents and evidence.
“You saw this attempted cover up by VW of this massive fraud in the United States as an opportunity…to impress the senior management at VW and therefore to advance your career,” the judge told Mr. Schmidt.
Mr. Schmidt, a German citizen who for several years headed Volkswagen’s environment and engineering office in Auburn Hills, Mich., appeared before the judge in a red prison jumpsuit and shackles. He has remained imprisoned in Michigan while awaiting sentencing, and will get credit for time served since his arrest in January.
Mr. Schmidt maintained he was following orders from superiors when misleading regulators, but also expressed remorse. “I accept the responsibility for the wrongs I committed,” Mr. Schmidt said, appearing emotional while pausing to compose himself before the judge rendered his sentence. “I made bad decisions, and for that I’m sorry.”
Mr. Schmidt, who has agreed to be deported upon finishing his prison term, is one of eight individuals charged in the Volkswagen case. James Liang, an engineer who pleaded guilty to charges and cooperated with federal prosecutors, was sentenced to 40 months imprisonment in August. He has appealed the sentence. Many of the other executives and employees charged reside in Germany and aren’t expected to be extradited to the U.S.