Former general manager of Volkswagen’s environmental and engineering office in Michigan, Oliver Schmidt, was charged Monday with conspiracy to defraud the United States. The charges maintain that Schmidt conspired to not reveal the use of a device that rigged vehicles to have lower emissions during tests. Schmidt was head of compliance in the US from 2014 through March of 2015, putting him in charge of adherence to emissions standards during a portion of the scandal. After California environmental officials began to investigate the emissions claims in 2014, Schmidt and other company officials repeatedly referred to false technical explanations for the high emissions levels, according to authorities. This cover-up most likely increased the cost of the scandal for the company, angering officials at the California Air Resources Board and the EPA.
On Friday, he was arrested in Florida, attempting to return to the US from a vacation in Germany, according to the Justice Department. The New York Times first reported the arrest.
These events have played out as Volkswagen moves toward a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department to resolve civil and criminal investigations into the emissions scandal. No specific deal has been reached in terms of the settlement, as talks are still underway. A spokesman for the company, Mario Guerreiro, said VW “continues to cooperate with the Department of Justice as we work to resolve remaining matters in the United States.”
The company has faced legal action around the world from individuals affected by the scandal, with a new class-action lawsuit filed in the UK on Monday.
In September of 2015, Volkswagen admitted it had installed “defeat devices”, which lowered emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, during tests. In June of last year, the company settled with the federal trade commission and EPA, and agreed to buy back cars from consumers. The total costs reached $15.3 billion dollars, resolving 44 state lawsuits, offsetting excess emissions, and promoting electric vehicles.
Monday’s events represent the second arrest in connection with the scandal. In October, James Robert Liang, a Volkswagen engineer, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the government.
The emissions cheating was first discovered by the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions, a small research center at West Virginia University. The center received a 70,000 dollar grant in 2013, after which they began investigating why Volkswagen was so far ahead of their competition in terms of emissions efficiency.