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Environmental Crimes Bulletin April 2024 Week 1

In this issue:

United States v. Carlton L. Adams, No. 2:24-CR-00122 (N.D. Ala.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Ethan Eddy, AUSA Ryan Rummage and ECS Paralegal Jillian Grubb

On April 3, 2024, authorities arrested Carlton L. Adams and unsealed an indictment charging him with violating the Animal Welfare Act for possessing dogs for fighting purposes and illegally possessing three firearms following a felony conviction (7 U.S.C. § 2156(b); 18 U.S.C. §§ 49, 922(g)).

In September 2023, authorities rescued 78 fighting dogs on three properties Adams maintained. They also recovered equipment used in fights, including syringes, anabolic steroids, a skin stapler, forceps, equipment and literature for training dogs, and break sticks used to separate fighting dogs. Adams also possessed two pistols and a semi-automatic shotgun despite having a prior felony conviction.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency conducted the investigation.

United States v. Hossam Hemdan, et al., No. 2: 24-CR-00071 (E.D. Calif.), AUSAs Katherine Lydon and Shea Kenny

On April 4, 2024, prosecutors unsealed an indictment charging 12 individuals for conspiring to circumvent California smog inspections using a sophisticated device known as the “OBDNator.”

Between October 2015 and March 2024, the defendants participated in a conspiracy enabling polluting vehicles to pass California’s smog checks. Smog checks are typically performed by plugging smog inspection equipment, known as a Data Acquisition Device (DAD), into a vehicle’s On-Board Diagnostics port (OBD). To cheat smog tests, the conspirators plugged the smog inspection equipment into the OBDNator device instead. The OBDNator would then make it look like a vehicle had passed the smog check regardless of the true condition of that vehicle’s emission control system. While the defendants’ roles in the conspiracy varied, all of them used the OBDNator devices.

The following defendants are charged with conspiracy and violating the Clean Air Act (18 U.S.C. § 371; 42 U.S.C. § 7413 (c)(2)(A) for conduct occurring at various locations throughout the Eastern District of California:

•           Hossam Hemdan owned and controlled several smog stations in Hawthorne and elsewhere. He designed, manufactured, and sold the OBDNator devices.

•           Javier Salguero owned and controlled several smog shops, including one in Belland two in Maywood.

•           Oscar Gomez ran a school for automotive technicians in Rancho Cucamonga.

•           Guillermo Tovar worked at multiple smog stations.

•           Arwa Harb owned and controlled smog stations, including one in Wilmington and one in South Gate.

•           Minh Truong operated smog stations in Long Beach owned by Thong Truong.

•           Thong Truong owned and controlled smog stations, including two in Long Beach.

•           Michael Nguyen operated a smog station in Spring Valley.

The following defendants are charged with conspiracy:

•           Yehia Harb owned and controlled a smog shop that was formerly in Venice and presently is in Hawthorne.

•           Khaled Hamdan worked at businesses owned by Hemdan.

•           Jeremy Earls owned and controlled smog stations, including two in Long Beach.

•           Nas Meshal utilized the OBDnator devices at various shops.

Hemdan developed the OBDNator device and its software program. Hemdan sold and distributed OBDNator devices for as much as $18,000. After plugging the smog inspection equipment into the OBDNator, the conspirators would use the OBDNator to convey false smog check information to the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR). The OBDNator provided the Vehicle Identification Number and passing “answers” to the smog inspection equipment’s queries in the exact format that a passing vehicle of the same make, model, and year would provide. In order to provide those false answers, the defendants and others maintained collections of “clean” vehicle profiles that they would use to make it look like other, different vehicles had passed. The latest version of the OBDNator could pass a vehicle without having the vehicle present at the smog station. During the conspiracy, some of the defendants organized classes to teach how to use the OBDNator and communicated through chat groups about how to avoid detection by authorities.

The defendants’ fraud was widespread. OBDNators are believed to be the most common and successful type of simulator devices used to cheat smog tests in California. The devices, when used skillfully with the latest software updates, have at times advanced beyond BAR’s ability to detect cheating with its current equipment. However, when an OBDNator user performs a fraudulent smog inspection imperfectly, BAR can often detect “tells” in the data conveyed to BAR during the inspection. In the approximately six-month period preceding this indictment, BAR detected the use of a smog cheating device in more than 0.5% of total smog inspections. This is likely an undercount because many successful attempts are not detected.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation, with assistance from the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs, and Homeland Security Investigations.

Updated May 3, 2024