Volkswagen exec gets seven years in prison over emissions scandal

He admitted to covering up the automaker's emission-cheating scheme.

Julien Amado/Autoblog Quebec

Volkswagen official Oliver Schmidt has been sentenced to seven years in prison and handed down a $400,000 fine. In August, the former Volkswagen manager in Michigan pleaded guilty for his role in the automaker's emission-cheating scheme. If you'll recall, the company admitted back in 2015 that it installed software designed to cheat emissions tests in millions of its vehicles. In truth, those cars emitted up to 35 times the legal level of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that could cause respiratory problems in people and could make vegetation more prone to disease.

According to The New York Times, he's the highest-ranking Volkswagen employee to be convicted, thus far. The other execs involved in the scheme live in the automaker's native country, Germany, which doesn't typically extradite its citizens outside the European Union. In fact, Schmidt already moved back to Germany, and authorities only got the chance to arrest him when he came back to the US with his wife for a vacation.

As the general manager of Volkswagen's engineering and environmental office in Michigan, Schmidt was responsible for the company's relationship with California's regulatory agency and reportedly fed federal regulators false information. Schmidt tried to downplay his involvement, but admitted that he concealed the existence of the software in at least one meeting with a California Air Resources Board senior official back in 2015.

"A script, or talking points, I was directed to follow for that meeting was approved by management level supervisors at VW, including a high-ranking in-house lawyer," he wrote in a letter addressed to Judge Sean F. Cox from the Federal District Court of Detroit. "Regrettably, I agreed to follow it." Judge Cox told Schmidt during the sentencing hearing that he "viewed the cover-up as an opportunity to shine and climb up the corporate ladder."

From the time Volkswagen's scheme was exposed, the automaker has agreed to pay billions to settle criminal and civil charges in the US. Most of the people responsible for the fiasco, however, will likely get away with what they did, so long as they stay in their native country.