A former high-ranking employee of Volkswagen AG pleaded guilty Friday for his role in the carmaker’s efforts to cheat federal air emissions standards.
Oliver Schmidt, a German man who led Volkswagen’s United States environmental engineering office, pleaded guilty to four of 11 charges he was facing.
Prosecutors say Schmidt was a central figure in the international “Dieselgate” scandal that has cost the German automaker more than $25 billion just in the United States.
“Schmidt participated in a fraudulent VW scam that prioritized corporate sales at the expense of the honesty of emissions tests and trust of the American purchasers,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jean Williams said.
“Schmidt, along with each and every official involved in this emissions scandal, will be held fully accountable for their actions by the Department of Justice as this investigation continues.”
Schmidt pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act and violating the Clean Air Act.
He faces up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $400,000.
In his plea agreement, Schmidt admitted to learning of the software in Volkswagen diesel vehicles that allowed it to cheat emissions tests in the summer of 2015 but working with other executives to avoid disclosing the information.
Schmidt was arrested in January when he was traveling to the United States.
Volkswagen said in a statement that it “continues to cooperate with investigations by the Department of Justice into the conduct of individuals,” but declined further comment on Schmidt’s case.
James Liang previously pleaded guilty to misleading authorities about the cheating. He is due to be sentenced this month.
A handful of other Volkswagen executives have been charged individually, but many live in Germany and would have to be extradited to be arrested.