We’ve been looking in recent posts at the challenges currently surrounding Volkswagen following the company’s admission that it intentionally developed technology that allowed it to avoid responsibility for meeting federal emission standards. As we wrote last time, it is possible that the company will face criminal penalties under the Clean Air Act, but due to a loophole in the law it may not be possible for prosecutors to secure those penalties.
Because of this, prosecutors may have to turn to criminal fraud charges to punish the company. The ability to secure a conviction or conviction for fraud would depend on the ability to demonstrate that the company or its executives deliberate presented false information to regulators or consumers with respect to emissions compliance. As we’ve noted, the company has admitted to wrongdoing, so it wouldn’t necessarily be a stretch for prosecutors.
Among the potential fraud charges Volkswagen could potentially be hit with is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is a federal law prohibiting the use of computer devices and networks with intent to defraud or to engage in other wrongdoing. Given that computers were used to develop the software the company developed to skirt EPA emissions standards, it is entirely possible that charges under this law could be filed.
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act includes a variety of provisions which involve different requirements and levels of gravity. Prosecutors obviously like to get the most serious penalties they can under the law, and may also pursue penalties under multiple laws in fraud cases. Suffice it to say that, if a fraud investigation does go forward in connection with the Volkswagen scandal, it will be important for any executives targeted by prosecutors to work with experienced criminal defense counsel to ensure their rights are protected and that prosecutors are held to their full burden of proof.