Photo: AP

A Volkswagen engineer pleaded guilty today after being indicted for creating a defeat system for the 2.0-liter VW diesel engines that cheated federal emissions regulations, Automotive News reports. It is the first criminal charge handed down as a result of the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into VW.

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A federal grand jury named James Robert Liang in an indictment this June, a document that was only unsealed today. The news site says Liang pleaded guilty to a single charge of “conspiracy to commit fraud against U.S. regulators.”

From the story:

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From fall 2006 through September 2015, “Liang and his co-conspirators, including current and former employees, and others, agreed to defraud the U.S. and VW customers, and violate the Clean Air Act, by misleading the U.S. and VW customers about whether VW diesel motors complied with U.S. emissions standards,” prosecutors said in the indictment.

The indictment says Liang worked as a diesel development engineer in Wolfsburg, Germany form 1983 to 2008, where he played a big role in developing the AE 189 2.0-liter diesel engine, an engine that was expected was to pass strict U.S. emissions regulations.

He moved to the U.S. in 2008 and became the “Leader of Diesel Competence,” working on emissions testing and certifications for VW TDI vehicles.

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During his time in those roles, the indictment claims, LIANG and employees from another unnamed company based in Berlin “designed, created, and implemented a software function (the “defeat device”) to cheat the standard U.S. emissions tests.”

It goes on:

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LIANG and his co-conspirators referred to the defeat device software as, among other things, the “acoustic function,” “switch logic,” “cycle beating” software, or “emissions-tight mode.”

After researchers at West Virginia University found out about discrepancies in VW TDIs’ NOx output, the indictment claims, LIANG tried covering it up:

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...LIANG and his co-conspirators intentional made, and caused to be made, false and fraudulent statements to the EPA and CARB when providing testing results, data, presentationsn, and statements to the EPA and CARB. Through these false and fraudulent statements, LIANG and his co-conspirators attempted to make it appear that there were innocenent mechancal and technological problems to blame.

Liang faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

More on this as we get it.