VW Execs Could Go to Prison Over Emissions Scandal – Why it Matters

Photo Credit: Mariordo Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz CC BY-SA 3.0

On January 11, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Volkswagen AG had agreed to plead guilty and pay $4.3 billion in criminal and civil penalties, for equipping its vehicles to cheat emissions tests and, more remarkably, that six executives and employees were indicted on multiple charges. One of the six had already been arrested when the announcement was released. The other five live in Germany where they will probably stay to avoid arrest.

The Charges

The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Michigan charged all six of the following men with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., defraud customers in the U.S, and violate the Clean Air Act:

  • Heinz-Jakob Neusser
  • Jens Hadler
  • Richard Dorenkamp
  • Bernd Gottweis
  • Oliver Schmidt
  • Jürgen Peter

Additionally, Dorenkamp, Neusser, Schmidt and Peter were charged with Clean Air Act violations, and Neusser, Gottweis, Schmidt and Peter were charged with wire fraud counts.

In September, 2016, another VW employee, James Robert Liang, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the U.S., committing wire fraud and violating the Clean Air Act. He could spend five years in prison and pay $250,000 in fines.

Why It Matters

Large corporations including auto makers and pharmaceutical companies routinely sell dangerous and deadly products, knowing exactly what they are doing and hiding or destroying the evidence. Individuals make those decisions – decisions that often take lives.

It is almost unheard of for those individuals to be held personally accountable for their choices. The corporations they work for face the penalties, and no one goes to jail. If executives and other employees who intentionally deceive the public and hide the defects in their products know that they are not untouchable, that they are taking a very real personal risk, they may start to think twice about putting the company’s profit over people’s lives.

Avatar About Sandra Dalton

With a background as a paralegal, focusing on criminal defense and civil rights, Sandra Dalton launched her freelance writing career in 2000 with a weekly column on Freedom for Suite 101 and pro bono projects for individuals and organizations supporting causes close to her heart. One of her first projects was for the Police Compliant Center writing about police misconduct. Sandra’s legal writing quickly expanded to include personal injury, animal welfare, criminal defense, disability discrimination, family law and much more.