LOS ANGELES– A federal grand jury has returned a 44-count indictment that charges nine defendants with violating the Clean Air Act by conducting hundreds of fraudulent smog check inspections that falsely certified vehicles had passed emissions tests when different cars and trucks had actually been tested.
The indictment, which was filed yesterday afternoon in United States District Court, focuses on Smogz R Us, a shop that operated on West 54thStreet in South Los Angeles. The defendants – who are charged with conspiracy and various counts of making false statements in a record – allegedly performed more than 1,300 fraudulent smog checks at Smogz R Us.
“Environmental protection programs, such as California's smog check program, are designed to protect our health and safety,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The operator and employees of this smog check facility – one of many on the front lines of limiting air pollution – willfully circumvented testing procedures and allowed as many as 1,300 hundred cars and trucks to emit harmful levels of pollutants.”
The federal Clean Air Act gives primary responsibility for meeting “ambient air quality” standards for pollutants such as ozone, lead, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide to the states. As part of California's plan to meet these air quality standards, the state's Bureau of Automotive Repair oversees a vehicle inspection program that requires many vehicles in the state – and in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, where ozone pollution is particularly severe – to undergo an emissions test commonly called a smog check. The Clean Air Act prohibits a person from knowingly making false statements and certifications in relation to programs mandated under the Clean Air Act, which includes the California smog check program.
The indictment alleged that the nine defendants engaged in a form of fraudulent smog testing known as “clean piping.” To do this, the defendants entered vehicle identification information into the smog testing equipment, known as the Emissions Inspection System (EIS), to make it appear that a particular vehicle was being tested, but then they performed the emissions test on a second “substitute vehicle” to obtain a passing result for the vehicle that was not actually tested. This process of “clean piping” was allegedly used to conduct more than 1,300 fraudulent smog checks at Smogz R Us, and nearly all of the vehicles supposedly being tested were not even at the testing station. According to the indictment, once the bogus tests were completed, the defendants caused fraudulent Certificates of Compliance to be submitted to California's Vehicle Information Database, falsely certifying that vehicles passed the smog checks when they were never tested.
The defendants named in the indictment are:
· Jermaine Elroy Williams, also known as “Aria,” 32, of Woodland Hills, who allegedly conducted fraudulent smog inspections at Smogz R Us after his license had been revoked and a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in a criminal case ordered Williams not to have any employment related to smog checks;
· Cheerline May Young, also known as Cheerline Williams, 52, of Athens, who is the mother of Jermaine Williams and was the owner and operator of Smogz R Us;
· Mario Mesa, 47, of Bell Gardens, a licensed smog check technician who allegedly conducted fraudulent smog check inspections at Smogz R Us;
· Jaime Patrick Alvarez, 55, of Baldwin Park, another licensed smog check technician who allegedly conducted fraudulent smog checks;
· Darnell Tyrone Usher, also known as “Who Knew,” 26, of South Los Angeles, who along with Williams was previously ordered by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge not to be employed in the smog or emissions industry;
· Lavell Fay Davenport, also known as “Precept,” 54, of South Los Angeles, who allegedly conducted fraudulent smog inspections;
· Miguel Angel Espinoza, 67, of Maywood, who allegedly facilitated and assisted in fraudulent smog checks;
· Mark Anthony Young, 23, of Woodland Hills, who is the son of Cheerline May Young and allegedly facilitated and assisted in fraudulent smog checks; and
· Cheerline Marie “Cici” Young, 26, of South Los Angeles, who is the daughter of Cheerline May Young and who also allegedly conducted fraudulent smog inspections.
The nine defendants will be summoned to appear for arraignment in United States District Court in the coming weeks.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The charge of conspiracy of conspiracy carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, and the charge of making false statements in a record carries a statutory maximum penalty of two years.
The indictment targeting Smogz R Us is the product of an investigation by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division.
USAO – California, Central Updated February 3, 2016
Central District of California DOJ / 16-021 / February 03, 2016