By Mike Spector
Volkswagen AG reached additional emissions-cheating settlements with state attorneys general in the U.S., adding to the big financial hit the German auto giant has suffered from rigging diesel-powered vehicles to dupe government regulators.
Volkswagen agreed to pay roughly $157.5 million to 10 states, settling environmental and consumer claims stemming from the yearslong deception, the company said Thursday. Settlements from the longstanding fraud could eventually cost Volkswagen more than $25 billion in the U.S. alone, depending on how many vehicles the company is forced to repurchase from consumers.
The settlement money disclosed Thursday will be spread among Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state, Volkswagen said. The states are among those that have adopted California's new-vehicle emissions standards, which are set apart from U.S. standards under a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The settlement also addresses certain claims from consumers covering a group of affected Volkswagen vehicles with 3-liter diesel engines, which weren't included in a $603 million agreement the auto maker reached with 44 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico in June 2016.
Volkswagen has admitted to conspiring for nearly a decade to install software on nearly 600,000 diesel-powered vehicles in the U.S. that allowed them to pass government emissions tests and then pollute far beyond legal limits on the road.
The auto maker, which has acknowledged putting the devices in some 11 million vehicles globally, pleaded guilty to criminal charges in March to resolve a long-running U.S. Justice Department probe. The plea deal included a $2.8 billion criminal fine, and Volkswagen also agreed to pay a separate $1.45 billion civil penalty to settle the investigation. Volkswagen is still under investigation by German authorities.
A U.S. grand jury separately indicted seven Volkswagen executive and employees for their alleged roles in the emissions fraud. Many of them reside in Germany and are unlikely to travel to the U.S. to face charges.
One of them, the former head of Volkswagen's environmental compliance office in Michigan, was arrested in Florida in January and remains behind bars after a federal judge in Detroit denied his request to be released on bond while awaiting trial. An engineer who pleaded guilty to criminal conduct for helping Volkswagen commit the emissions deception is scheduled to be sentenced in May.
The settlements disclosed Thursday totaled far less than the state attorneys general had initially sought from Volkswagen. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last year sued Volkswagen seeking more than $400 million in civil penalties for what the legal complaint described as "egregious and pervasive violations" that "strike at the heart" of state environmental laws.
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