Volkswagen engineer pleads guilty to conspiracy count in emissions scandal

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A Volkswagen engineer pleaded guilty Friday morning in Detroit to a conspiracy count in the emissions cheating scandal.

Authorities say 62-year-old James Liang was at the center of the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal, and that he helped design the component of the diesel engine that would trick the EPA on the vehicle's emissions test.

Volkswagen is accused of falsifying pollution tests to make vehicles appear cleaner than they were. An investigation revealed the cars would pump out as much as 40 times the allowed level of nitrogen oxides once they were on the road.

We're told more than 500,000 vehicles from 2009-2015 had the device on it to emit the false emissions report.

Volkswagen has already had to pay $10 billion to either buy back the cheating diesel vehicles, or to repair them. It was the largest auto-related consumer class-action settlement in U.S. history.

Liang pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, to commit wire fraud and to violate the Clean Air Act. 

We're told Liang worked for Volkswagen in Germany from 1983-2008 and then came and worked in the United States. He's from Newberry Park, California.

According to the plea agreement, Liang admitted that beginning in about 2006, he and his co-conspirators started to design a new “EA 189” diesel engine for sale in the United States. 

According to Liang’s admissions, when he and his co-conspirators realized that they could not design a diesel engine that would meet the stricter U.S. emissions standards, they designed and implemented software to recognize whether a vehicle was undergoing standard U.S. emissions testing on a dynamometer or being driven on the road under normal driving conditions (the defeat device), in order to cheat the emissions tests.

Liang is expected to be sentenced in January. The judge said that sentencing guidelines call for Liang to serve five years in prison.