U.S. Recommends Three-Year Prison Term for Ex-VW Engineer

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. prosecutors are recommending a three-year prison term for the former Volkswagen AG engineer who was the first person charged in the automaker’s diesel-emissions cheating scandal, citing his cooperation as a reason not to give him the maximum five years.

James Liang, who is scheduled to be sentenced in Detroit on Aug. 25, pleaded guilty in September to conspiring to defraud U.S. customers and regulators. Although he wasn’t the mastermind behind VW’s fraud, he was a key participant in pivotal events, the Justice Department said in court papers Friday.

"Liang knew that what he was doing was wrong, but minimized his own moral responsibility for the fraud by reassuring himself that he was merely an engineer whose job it was to present practical solutions to problems, regardless of their propriety," prosecutors said. "He told himself that others in the company were responsible for deciding whether ethical considerations should influence which course to take."

Liang’s lawyer didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

He is one of eight Volkswagen or Audi executives criminally charged in the U.S. for their alleged roles in the scheme in which VW outfitted about 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide with so-called defeat devices to cheat emissions tests.

“As a longtime member of the conspiracy, Liang has given the government a firsthand perspective of the illicit objectives and motivations of VW and its employees,” prosecutors wrote. “Liang began to cooperate immediately."

VW spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan declined to comment on Liang’s case.

“Volkswagen continues to cooperate with investigations by the Department of Justice into the conduct of individuals,” she said in an email.

The case is U.S. v Liang, 16-cr-20394, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).