Six VW executives charged by Justice Department over Dieselgate scandal

by Charles Miller

Prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice indicted six Volkswagen executives last week on charges connected with their role in the Dieselgate emissions cheating scandal. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that additional executives at Volkswagen are also being investigated in connection with the case and could face charges.

According to the charges filed by the Justice Department, Volkswagen and its executive misled federal regulators for years about the emissions levels of its “TDI Clean Diesel” models. Prosecutors say that from 2006 to 2015, Volkswagen installed an emissions defeat device on 11 million diesel-powered vehicles that was designed to hide the cars’ high nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions levels from regulators and consumers.

During this period, Volkswagen and its executives falsely maintained that the company’s vehicles were in compliance with the Clean Air Act and other U.S. environmental law, and from 2009 to 2015 imported the vehicles to the U.S. even though they were in violation of federal emissions regulations.

Prosecutors say that the six Volkswagen executives who were charged this week were connected to the company’s engine development and quality assurance divisions in the U.S. and Germany. The Justice Department says that the executives directed VW employees to build technology designed to evade U.S. emissions testing and falsely marketed vehicles that we equipped with a defeat device as “clean diesel” vehicles.

VW Executives Charged With Dieselgate Conspiracy

After regulators discovered Volkswagen’s diesel emissions cheating, the Justice Department says that Volkswagen and its executives “did corruptly alter, destroy, mutilate and conceal business records” in order to hide their wrongful conduct from investigators. Justice Department documents show that one Volkswagen manager deleted emails and files related to the emissions defeat device and instructed VW employees to also delete records.

Volkswagen executives Heinz-Jakob Neusser, Jens Hadler, Richard Dorenkamp, Bernd Gottweis, Oliver Schmidt, and Jürgen Peter were each indicted by the Justice Department in connection with Volkswagen’s Dieselgate emissions cheating. The six executives – all German citizens – were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and violation of the U.S. Clean Air Act.

Schmidt was arrested earlier this week while trying to board a flight in Miami. The remaining five executives are thought to be living in Germany. Lynch said it was unclear how this would affect legal proceeding in the case going forward.

Legal commentators say that it rare for executives who are involved in corporate scandals to face criminal charges. Even in cases involving automakers in which deaths occurred – such as with GM or Toyota – the companies were forced to pay fines, but admitted no wrongdoing and no executives were charged. Legal commentators say that Volkswagen’s executives faced charges in connection with the Dieselgate scandal in part because of the “egregious wrongdoing” committed by the company and its executives.

Volkswagen has already been forced to pay billions of dollars because of the Dieselgate scandal. These include a multi-billion settlement last year requiring Volkswagen to buy back cars and compensate VW and Audi owners impacted by the company’s emissions cheating. In January 2017, Volkswagen also agreed to plead guilty to three counts of criminal misconduct in connection with the Dieselgate scandal and to pay $4.3 billion in criminal and civil fines over the diesel emissions cheating.

Volkswagen’s Dieselgate emissions cheating has prompted additional investigations into potential emissions cheating by other automakers.  Last summer, investigators at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) discovered that Audi had installed a defeat device on its A6, A8, Q5, Q7, S4, S5, S6, and S7 automatic gasoline-powered models to hide the CO2 emissions levels of these vehicles. In 2017, the EPA accused Chrysler of also installing emissions cheating software on Dodge RAM 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel models. Audi and Chrysler are both facing class action lawsuits filed by vehicle owners over the alleged emissions cheating.

Emissions Cheating Lawsuits Filed by Heygood, Orr & Pearson

If you purchased or leased one of the Audi, Dodge, or Jeep vehicles implicated in these latest emissions cheating scandals, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit and receive compensation for the excessive costs and lost value of your vehicle. The first step in filing a lawsuit is to consult with an attorney who has the experience in vehicle defect and emissions cheating litigation to advise you of your legal rights and guide you through the first steps in filing a case.

For more information about allegations of emissions cheating against Volkswagen, Audi, and Chrysler and to find out whether you may qualify to file a lawsuit, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson for a free legal consultation. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following this link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few brief questions to get started.


Case results depend upon a variety of factors unique to each case. Results of other cases do not guarantee or predict a similar result in any future case.

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by Charles Miller

Charles Miller is a licensed attorney and a partner at Heygood, Orr & Pearson. Charles focuses his practice on areas of complex commercial litigation and personal injury litigation.