DETROIT — A federal court magistrate Thursday granted a request by former Volkswagen executive Oliver Schmidt to carry out the remainder of his seven-year prison sentence for his role in the automaker’s massive diesel emissions fraud in his native Germany.
Schmidt, 51, appeared via video conference before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford of the U.S. District Court in Detroit from the federal penitentiary in Milan, Mich., west of Detroit.
The former Volkswagen engineer — who at one time headed up the automaker’s compliance office in suburban Detroit and admitted to plotting with other company executives to cover up its cheating on diesel emissions — has been in prison since his arrest at the Miami-Dade County Airport in January 2017 while returning from a Christmas holiday in Florida. He pleaded guilty in December that year before U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox to two felonies, a violation of the Clean Air Act and conspiracy to defraud the United States, and was sentenced to the maximum seven years in prison and a $400,000 fine.
Schmidt, who previously declined a prison interview request from Automotive News, applied to the Justice Department’s International Prisoner Transfer unit two years ago to finish his sentence in his homeland. His request was not opposed, and Thursday’s hearing before Stafford was to determine whether Schmidt still consented to the transfer.
Under the terms of a treaty, Germany will assume the responsibility of carrying out the remainder of Schmidt’s sentence.
During the brief 10 minute video hearing, Schmidt, wearing a green polo shirt — glasses and a mask and sitting at a table at the prison – acknowledged that he did wish to be transferred to Germany to finish out his sentence, though he will remain under the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Schmidt’s release date is currently scheduled for Dec. 25, 2022.
At his sentencing hearing in 2017, Schmidt said he blamed himself for agreeing to carry out the illicit wishes of his superiors in Germany to keep the cover-up going.
“For the disruption of my life, I only have to blame myself,” Schmidt said. “I justified my decisions by telling myself that I was obliged to speak for my superiors. The man that stands before you today no longer believes that.”
In a letter to Cox prior to sentencing, Schmidt said he learned about the company’s emissions-testing evasion scheme in summer 2015. Schmidt said he was given “a script, or talking points” approved by VW management and “high-ranking lawyers” to follow when he met with California environmental official Alberto Ayala on Aug. 5, 2015, Bloomberg reported.
“Regrettably, I agreed to follow it,” Schmidt wrote. “In hindsight, I should have never agreed to meet with Dr. Ayala on that day. Or, better yet, I should have gone to that meeting, ignored the instructions given to me” and admitted “there was a defeat device in VW diesel engine vehicles and that VW had been cheating for almost a decade.”