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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of North Carolina

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Charlotte Man Sentenced To 12 Months In Prison For Vehicle Emissions Fraud

United States Attorney Anne M. Tompkins Western District Of North Carolina

Defendant Was A Licensed Emissions Inspector At Carolina Tire & Auto In Pineville

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad, Jr. sentenced a Charlotte man today to 12 months in prison for conducting false vehicle emission inspections, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Jose Manuel Cabrera, 28, of Charlotte, was also ordered to serve three years under court supervision following the prison term with the condition that he will not obtain a license to or actually conduct any vehicle emissions testing. Cabrera was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and to complete 100 hours of community service.

U.S. Attorney Tompkins is joined in making today’s announcement by Special Agent in Charge Maureen O’Mara of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), Atlanta Area Office; Greg McLeod, Director of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (NC SBI); and Steven M. Watkins, Director of the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles License & Theft Bureau (NC DMV L&T).

According to court records and today’s sentencing hearing, Cabrera worked at Carolina Tire & Auto service center (Carolina Tire) in Pineville, as a mechanic and a vehicle emissions inspector licensed by the state of North Carolina. As a state-licensed emissions inspector, Cabrera tested vehicles to ensure they met federally-mandated emissions requirements. Court records show that from February 2011 to May 2012, and while employed at Carolina Tire, Cabrera conducted 164 illegal vehicle emissions inspections using surrogate vehicles to falsely pass vehicles that would have failed emissions inspection. According to court records, Cabrera performed these fraudulent emissions tests at Carolina Tire by entering into the state database the information of the vehicle that needed to be tested but then connected the testing equipment to a vehicle that was either being worked on at Carolina Tire or had already been repaired and had not been picked by the owner. The illegal practice of utilizing substitute vehicles for emissions testing is referred to in the industry as “clean scanning.” Court records indicate that Cabrera charged $60 to clean scan a vehicle. Carolina Tire’s Pineville service center was suspended from conducting emissions testing for ten years by the NC DMV L&T.

Cabrera’s sentence was enhanced because of Cabrera’s criminal history, including membership in the MS-13 gang. Cabrera was taken into custody following the sentencing hearing. He will be transferred into the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility. Federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole.

The Clean Air Act is a federal law that authorizes the EPA 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 North Carolina has established a vehicle emissions testing program that requires cars in 48 out of North Carolina’s 100 counties be inspected to ensure that their emissions do not exceed limits for hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and other compounds. According to the EPA, the Charlotte metropolitan area exceeds the 8-hour standard set for ozone, a potent irritant that can cause lung damage and other types of respiratory problems. 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.

The investigation of this case was conducted by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, NC SBI’s Diversion and Environmental Crimes Unit and the NC DMV License & Theft Bureau, with assistance from the North Carolina Division of Air Quality, Mobile Sources Compliance Branch. The prosecution was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Steven R. Kaufman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.

Updated March 19, 2015