EMISSIONS INSPECTORS PLEAD GUILTY TO VIOLATING
CLEAN AIR ACT
May 4, 2011
Trio Fraudulently Certified More Than 1,400 Cars
That Would Have Failed Emissions Test
ATLANTA, GA - JAMES HINTON, 41, of Riverdale, Georgia, pleaded guilty today in federal district court to violating the Clean Air Act by fraudulently issuing emissions certificates to cars that would have failed the emissions inspection required by law. Two other defendants, MICHAEL KELLY, 40, and JACKIE BAKER, 52, both of Atlanta, Georgia, pleaded guilty last month to charges of violating the Clean Air Act for issuing fraudulent emissions certificates in the same case.
United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said of the case, “Emissions inspectors who issue passing certificates to deficient cars not only commit fraud, they harm our environment by allowing the continuous release of dangerous pollutants into the air we breathe. These defendants were willing to ignore the long-term damage they were causing in exchange for under-the-table payments they received for each fraudulent certificate.”
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: HINTON, KELLY, and BAKER were licensed emissions inspectors working at a “Stop N Shop” in College Park, Georgia through May 2009, when they lost their licenses. During the five-month period from January to May 2009, the defendants issued over 1,400 fraudulent emissions certificates to car owners, falsely stating that the owners’ cars had passed the required emissions test. Instead of connecting the owners’ real cars to the emissions equipment, however, the defendants connected different cars that they knew would pass the test. During the tests, the computer system automatically transmitted emissions testing data to a statewide database accessible by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The defendants manually entered other information into the system, such as the make, model, and vehicle identification number, to make it appear that they were testing the owners’ real cars, many of which had already failed an emissions test or showed equipment malfunctions. The defendants charged $100 to $125 for a fraudulent emissions test, far more than the usual $20 they charged for a legitimate inspection. Georgia law prohibits inspection stations from charging more than $25 for an emissions test.
On the date of KELLY’s arrest in March 2011, federal agents caught KELLY at an emissions shop in Union City, Georgia in the process of performing a fraudulent emissions inspection. He had his personal vehicle attached to the emissions equipment, but had entered information into the system for a different vehicle registered to someone else. KELLY was denied bond and has remained in jail since his arrest.
The Clean Air Act is a federal law that authorizes the United States Environmental Protection Agency to establish air quality standards to protect public health and welfare and to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants. As required by the Act, the State of Georgia has established a vehicle emissions testing program that requires cars in several counties be inspected to ensure that their emissions do not exceed limits for hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, and other compounds. With certain exceptions, car owners must submit an emissions certificate to obtain their annual vehicle registration. The Clean Air Act prohibits making false statements in records, including emissions certificates and database records, that are required to be maintained by the Act.
HINTON, KELLY, and BAKER were indicted by a federal grand jury on February 22, 2011 for conspiracy and Clean Air Act violations. Each has now pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Clean Air Act and could receive a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In determining the actual sentence, the Court will consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders.
Sentencing for HINTON and BAKER is scheduled for June 29, 2011, at 3 p.m., before United States District Judge Orinda D. Evans. KELLY is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Evans on June 15, 2011, at 3:00 p.m.
This case is being investigated by Special Agents of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division.
Assistant United States Attorney Stephen H. McClain is prosecuting the case.
For further information please contact Sally Q. Yates, United States Attorney, or Charysse L. Alexander, Executive Assistant United States Attorney, through Patrick Crosby, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Attorney's Office, at (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the HomePage for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia is www.justice.gov/usao/gan.