Volkswagen’s year-long “dirty diesel” saga nabbed its first Volks-villain on Friday, when a veteran engineer for the carmaker pleaded guilty in the first criminal charge related to the VW’s use of so-called “defeat devices” in millions of vehicles in order to skirt federal emissions regulations.
James Liang, who worked at the carmaker for decades in Germany and the U.S., pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud regulators and customers, Bloomberg reports.
Liang, 68, is the first VW employee to face charges from the Department of Justice related to the year-long investigation into the carmaker’s use of defeat devices in more than 500,000 cars in the U.S.
In addition to being charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, Liang also faced a charge of violating the Clean Air Act.
Liang, who has agreed to cooperate with the U.S. investigation into VW, was previously named as a developer of the defeat device in a lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in July.
According to that lawsuit [PDF], Liang was one of the engineers at VW’s Wolfsburg plant directly involved in the development of the defeat devices back in 2006.
Liang began working in the U.S. for VW in 2008. Several years later, in 2014, he allegedly began conducting tests at a California facility as part of the carmaker’s efforts to conceal the devices from regulators.
Friday’s guilty plea is just the first in what could be a long line of executives facing charges for wrongdoing. The New York AG’s lawsuit alleges several engineers and executives were aware of the use of defeat devices and assisted in covering up the issues.
VW admitted last September to installing defeat devices on more than 11 million vehicles worldwide in order to skirt regulations for nitrogen oxide emissions.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board, the “sophisticated software algorithm” in the vehicles is programmed to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and to only turn on full emissions control systems during that testing.
Since then, the carmaker has worked to put the scandal behind it, agreeing in June to pay at least $15 billion to settle federal allegations.
Additionally, sources close to the matter reported in August, that VW and federal prosecutors were close to reaching an agreement to settle criminal charges against the carmaker itself.
Veteran Volkswagen Engineer Charged in U.S. Emissions Probe [Bloomberg]
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.