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Prosecutors want prison for VW engineer in diesel scandal

Behind the Volkswagen scandal

A Volkswagen engineer who had a key role in the automaker's diesel emissions scandal could be facing prison, if U.S. prosecutors get their way.

U.S. prosecutors are seeking a three-year prison sentence Robert Liang (LANG), who will be sentenced Friday in federal court in Detroit. He is one of two VW (VLKAY) employees to plead guilty, although others charged in the case are in Germany and out of reach.

Prosecutors say Liang was aware that VW used software to cheat U.S. emission rules on nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles. His lawyer says he's not "greedy or immoral" but followed orders to keep his job and support his family.

The 63-year-old Liang is asking the judge to consider a sentence of probation and 1,500 hours of community service.

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The government says Liang wasn't the mastermind but took part in "pivotal events." Liang last year pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government and agreed to cooperate with investigations in the U.S. and Germany. Liang was the first person to enter a plea in the wide-ranging case. 

The grand jury indictment against Liang detailed a 10-year conspiracy by Volkswagen employees in the U.S. and Germany to repeatedly dupe U.S. regulators by using sophisticated emissions software. The indictment detailed emails between Liang and co-workers that initially admitted to cheating in an almost cavalier manner but then turned desperate after the deception was uncovered. 

The German automaker's efforts to cheat on federal and state emissions tests have led to its agreement to pay a total of $4.3 billion in criminal and civil penalties. That sum includes $2.8 billion in criminal penalties as well as $1.5 billion to resolve environmental, customs and financial claims. Volkswagen, which pleaded guilty to three felony counts, will be on probation for three years and will be overseen by a corporate compliance monitor for that time, the Department of Justice said earlier this year