A Volkswagen engineer has become the first employee to be indicted and to plead guilty on criminal charges over fraudulent emissions software, according to unsealed court documents.

VW engineer James Robert Liang pleaded guilty today in a conspiracy charge for playing a part in rigging emissions software in 2.0-liter diesel cars sold in the U.S.  In June, he’d been named in a grand jury indictment filed with the U.S. District Court in Detroit and that was unsealed by the court today.

Liang pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit fraud against the U.S. government and VW customers, and for violating the Clean Air Act. The plea agreement also includes Liang being willing to cooperate with the U.S. government’s investigation into the diesel emissions fraud investigation, according to the Justice Department.

A conspiracy charge does indicate that other VW employees will face criminal charges by the U.S. government. Higher-ranking VW officials will face increasing pressure, according to the Automotive News story.

“Liang and his co-conspirators, including current and former employees, and others, agreed to defraud the U.S. and VW customers, and violate the Clean Air Act, by misleading the U.S. and VW customers about whether VW diesel motors complied with U.S. emissions standards,” prosecutors said in the indictment.

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The investigation is covering the time period of fall 2006 to September 2015, according to the court document.

Liang faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison when sentenced. He was part of the team that developed the EA 189 2.0-liter diesel TDI engine used in several VW models included in the investigation.

Automotive News