Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal took an odd turn this week when federal prosecutors accused two Detroit-area men of stealing dozens of vehicles that were headed for the crusher after the automaker bought them back from customers.
According to Automotive News, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan accuses the two men conspired to steal some 60 VW and Audi models that had been recalled in the wake of the scandal.
In March 2017, Volkswagen Group pleaded guilty to a slew of felonies, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and importing vehicles illegally, filed in the wake of a sophisticated campaign to circumvent federal emissions regulations. VW and Audi vehicles with 2.0-liter TDI diesel engines featured software coded to reduce emissions only during testing the Environmental Protection Agency.
The scandal affected over half a million vehicles in the United States and as many as 11 million globally. It cost the VW $14.7 billion in fines and other costs. Volkswagen's chief emissions compliance officer in the United States, Oliver Schmidt, was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined $400,000. Former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn was later charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, and violating the Clean Air Act. Under the terms of the guilty plea, VW had to buy back or fix 403,000 vehicles from customers in the U.S.
A sprawling parking lot at the Pontiac Silverdome, former home of the Detroit Lions, was one of several sites where VW was storing the doomed cars. When it announced the charges Monday, federal prosecutors said Romane Porter, 42, of Farmington Hills, Michigan, and Daniel Onorati, 41, of Eastpointe, Michigan, recruited other men to steal vehicles from the site between March and September 2017. Authorities say that in most cases, the vehicles were loaded onto transporters and taken out of state to be sold.
Onorati was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Detroit last week and released on bond. Porter's arraignment is scheduled for next month. Possession or sale of stolen vehicles is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, while the conspiracy charge could bring a sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors have not said whether anyone else involved in the conspiracy might be charged.
Volkswagen declined to comment on the case when asked by Automotive News.