Georgia Emissions Inspectors Plead Guilty in Federal Court
ATLANTA – Jerome Clarence Barnes, Jr. and Jared F. Walker have pleaded guilty for their roles in a scheme to fraudulently issue emissions certificates for cars that would have failed the emissions inspection required by law.
“Barnes orchestrated a scheme to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal payments in return for falsely certifying that cars had passed emissions tests,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “By issuing false certificates, not only did Barnes and his codefendants corrupt the emissions certification system, they also allowed a threat to air quality in Atlanta, and as a consequence, public health.”
“Congress enacted the Clean Air Act to ensure that all Americans have the right to breathe clean, safe air and violators who produce fraudulent emissions data undermine that right.” said Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Georgia. “All of the violations in this case took place in the Greater Atlanta area, a region that exceeds minimum federal standards for hazardous air pollutants. This case is an excellent example of how EPA, working with investigators from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and other agencies, works to protect both the public and the environment.”
“The result of this investigation sends an important message to anyone who would try to defraud Georgia’s vehicle emissions program,” said Judson H. Turner, Director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). “The program has a major role in the state’s plan to improve air quality in metropolitan Atlanta, so we are very pleased with this outcome.”
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: Barnes, 34, of Lithia Springs, Ga., was responsible for issuing over 4,000 fraudulent emissions certificates to car owners in Georgia from September 2011 to September 2012, falsely stating that the owners’ cars passed the required emissions test. Barnes worked with other individuals to open emissions inspection stations in their names that he would then use to issue fraudulent emissions certificates. Opening stations in others’ names helped conceal Barnes’ involvement in the fraudulent activity. He wanted to avoid detection because he previously owned two inspection stations that state authorities had shut down for fraud. When authorities would discover emissions fraud occurring at one of the inspection stations, Barnes continued the fraud at another station that was opened under the name of a different owner. During the scheme, Barnes used On Time Emissions in Fulton County, All Clean Emissions in Cobb County, BDH Emissions in Dekalb County, Elite Emissions in Fulton County, and Cleaner Atlanta Emissions in Cobb County, to conduct fraudulent emissions testing. Walker, 35, of Austell, Ga., owned All Clean Emissions.
Jared F. Walker, and co-defendants Ieka N. Jones, 33, of Winston, Ga., and Seretha Franklin, 36, of Acworth, Ga., were licensed emissions inspectors who worked with Barnes to issue passing emissions certificates to car owners whose cars would have otherwise failed the emissions test. Instead of connecting the owners’ real cars to the emissions equipment, the defendants connected different cars 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 amount charged for a legitimate inspection. Georgia law prohibits inspection stations from charging more than $25 for an emissions test.
Barnes pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud by depriving the State of Georgia and its citizens of their right to his honest services as a licensed emissions inspector. Walker pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Clean Air Act. The conspiracy charge against Barnes carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison. The Clean Air Act charge against Walker carries a maximum sentence of 2 years in prison. Each charge carries 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.
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.
Sentencing is scheduled for November 22, 2013, at 10:00 a.m. before United States District Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr. The indictment charging Jones and Franklin with conspiracy and Clean Air Act violations remains pending.
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 the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the HomePage for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division is http://www.justice.gov/usao/gan/.