A senior Volkswagen executive was sentenced to seven years in prison by a US court on Wednesday after being found guilty of concealing software used to evade pollution limits on nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles.
Oliver Schmidt, a German national who was the general manager in charge of VW’s environmental and engineering office in Michigan, had pleaded guilty to his part in the cover-up and argued he was “misused” by VW in its attempts to circumvent US emissions tests.
But at the sentencing in Detroit judge Sean Cox sided with the prosecution. “It is my opinion that you are a key conspirator in this scheme to defraud the United States,” Cox told Schmidt in court. “You saw this as your opportunity to shine … and climb the corporate ladder at VW.”
Schmidt read a written statement in court acknowledging his guilt and broke down when discussing his family’s sacrifices on his behalf since his arrest in January.
“I made bad decisions and for that I am sorry,” he said.
Alongside the sentence Schmidt was fined $400,000. Both the jail term and the fine were at the top end of sentencing guidelines.
Schmidt, who oversaw emissions at VW’s office in Michigan from 2012 to early 2015, met with key California regulators in 2015 but did not disclose the rogue software.
The government said he later misled US investigators and destroyed documents. Schmidt’s lawyers argued that his role only heated up in 2015, years after others at VW hatched the scheme, which violated the Clean Air Act.
“The defendant has a leadership role within VW,” federal officials said. “As a consequence of that role, he was literally in the room for important decisions during the height of the criminal scheme.”
VW pleaded guilty as a corporation in March and agreed to pay billions of dollars in fines.
Schmidt, who had returned to Germany, was arrested in Florida in January after attempting to return home from a vacation following the filing of an FBI complaint.
He is the highest-ranking VW employee to be convicted in the scheme in the US and the chances that the US authorities will prosecute more senior VW executives are slim as most are in Germany, which is unlikely to extradite its citizens to stand trial in the US.