The owner and President of a North Kingstown-based trucking company and his two corporations were sentenced in federal court in Providence, Rhode Island, Wednesday, Dec. 13, for conspiring with trucking and diesel vehicle sales and service companies throughout the United States and with a foreign national to violate the Clean Air Act by selling and providing a software program that tampered with on-board vehicle computers to alter or bypass key features in emission control systems.
United States Attorney Zachary A. Cunha announced that, having previously pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act, United States District Court Judge Mary M. McElroy today ordered Collins to serve a term of three years of probation; to perform 100 hours of community service; pay a fine of $50,000; and to create a compliance and ethics program and to notify his employees and stockholders of the program.
Additionally, District Court Judge McElroy placed each of Collins’ corporations on probation for three years and for each corporation to provide a payment of $125,000 to the Rhode Island Environmental Recovery Fund.
Under the federal Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established standards that limit the emission of air pollutants from various types of vehicle engines. To meet those standards, vehicle manufacturers design and install certain hardware components as part of the systems that manage and treat engine exhaust to reduce multiple types of pollution.
Collins previously admitted to the court that for nearly five years, beginning in September 2014, he and his North Kingstown company M&D Transportation, Inc.; his now-defunct computer company Diesel Tune-Ups of RI, Inc.; various trucking and diesel vehicle sales and repair companies throughout the United States; and a foreign national all conspired to alter or disable certain functions of the Electronic Control Modules (ECM) and On Board Diagnostic (OBD) monitoring systems of heavy-duty diesel vehicles. These alterations are referred to in the industry as “tunes.”
Collins admitted that in exchange for a fee, the foreign national would download tuning software through a laptop computer provided by Collins and his companies, that was then connected to each vehicle. Through a remote connection, the “tunes” were downloaded onto each vehicle’s Electronic Control Module or computer to reprogram the vehicle’s monitoring systems. The vehicle’s monitoring systems were manipulated so that they would not detect malfunctions in the emission control components, thereby allowing vehicles to operate without proper emission controls. As a result, “tuned” vehicles could run with increased horsepower and torque, which can reduce maintenance and repair costs, but which results in significant increases in pollutant emissions.
The tuning business was marketed on Facebook. Interested companies were directed to contact a Rhode Island telephone number associated with Collins, M & D, and Diesel Tune-Ups. Customers paid Collins’ companies between $1,700 and $3,650 for each vehicle “tuned.” Collins and his companies wired a portion of the funds to their foreign co-conspirator and retained a portion of the funds for themselves.