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Press Release

12 Members of Smog Inspection Cheating Ring Indicted

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Twelve people have been charged by federal indictment for a conspiracy to cheat California smog inspections using a sophisticated device known as the “OBDNator,” in violation of the Clean Air Act. The indictment was unsealed today following the arrests of the defendants who are alleged to have manufactured, distributed, and used OBDNators to cheat smog checks across the state.

U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert, Acting Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Bahney of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, Region 9, and Acting Special Agent in Charge Mark Remily of the FBI Sacramento Field Office made the announcement today.

According to court documents, between October 2015 and March 2024, the defendants participated in a conspiracy to cause 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 making false statements pursuant to the Clean Air Act:

  • Hossam “Sam” Hemdan, 54, of Hawthorne, owned and controlled several smog stations in Hawthorne and elsewhere. He designed, manufactured, and sold the OBDNator devices.
  • Javier Salguero, 47, of Inglewood, owned and controlled several smog shops, including one in Bell and two in Maywood.
  • Oscar Gomez, 36, of Rancho Cucamonga, ran a school for automotive technicians in Rancho Cucamonga.
  • Guillermo Tovar, 35, of Fontana, worked at multiple smog stations.
  • Arwa Harb, 53, of Redondo Beach, owned and controlled smog stations, including one in Wilmington and one in South Gate.
  • Minh Truong, 45, of San Jose, operated out of smog stations owned by Thong Truong.
  • Thong Truong, 40, of San Jose, owned and controlled smog stations, including two in Long Beach.
  • Michael Nguyen, 38, of National City, operated out of a smog station in Spring Valley.

The following defendants are charged with conspiracy:

  • Yehia Harb, 36, of Hawthorne, owned and controlled a smog shop that was formerly in Venice and presently is in Hawthorne.
  • Khaled Hamdan, 31, of Hawthorne, worked at businesses owned by Hemdan.
  • Jeremy Earls, 37, of Lakewood, owned and controlled smog stations, including two in Long Beach.
  • Nas Meshal, 30, of La Palma.

“For many years, California’s Smog Check Program has successfully reduced the amount of pollution in the air we breathe by identifying polluting vehicles and requiring them to be repaired or retired,” said U.S. Attorney Talbert. “The developer and users of the OBDNator smog check cheating devices who are charged in the indictment unsealed today polluted the air we breathe for their own profit and harmed the health of Californians. Anyone who may be tempted to utilize a device to cheat on smog checks should consider that they too could face federal criminal charges and possible prison time. My office will continue to prioritize cases like this that protect our residents’ health and the environment.”

“Vehicle emissions testing is fundamental to protect air quality,” said EPA Criminal Investigation Division Special Agent in Charge Bahney. “The individuals ran a scheme to undermine the Clean Air Act ultimately at the expense of public health and the environment.”

“The FBI is deeply committed to investigating environmental crimes and the individuals and networks who seek to circumvent regulations for their own gain,” said FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge, Mark Remily. “This case is a perfect example of law enforcement coordination to ensure the interests and safety of the American people are protected.”

According to court documents, Hemdan developed the OBDNator device and its accompanying 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 the vehicle even being 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 test 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 a user of the OBDNator performs a fraudulent smog imperfectly, BAR can often detect “tells” in the data conveyed to BAR in the course of the smog 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 OBDNator devices have harmed California’s air quality and endangered the health of California residents. California’s Smog Check Program has made great progress at ensuring the vast majority of vehicles are compliant with emissions standards and improving California’s air quality. The defendants’ smog-cheating scheme undermines those efforts. A comparison between the failure rates of vehicles inspected in 2023 by BAR at random roadside checkpoints (13.5%) and by smog stations (7%) indicates how undetectable smog cheating leads to polluting vehicles being driven on California’s roads. The dirtiest vehicles – which could not pass smog inspections legitimately and which could not be registered without cheating – have an outsize impact on the air. For example, according to research presented by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the highest 1% of emitting light duty vehicles are responsible for approximately 42% of the total hydrocarbon emissions from all light-duty vehicles. BAR and CARB estimate that if all smog check stations in California operated as effectively as high-performing stations, that would have the impact of reducing approximately 56 additional tons per day of exhaust emissions.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation with assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs, and Homeland Security Investigations San Diego. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Katherine T. Lydon and Shea J. Kenny are prosecuting the case.

If convicted of the conspiracy count, the defendants face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. If convicted of the count of false statements in Clean Air Act documents, the defendants face a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Updated April 4, 2024