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2 Italian managers indicted in Fiat Chrysler emissions probe

·3 min read

DETROIT — Two Italian managers in Fiat Chrysler's diesel engine program have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit in a widening case alleging a scheme to cheat on U.S. emissions tests.

The indictments unsealed Tuesday detail allegations of a plot to dupe the Environmental Protection Agency by rigging more than 100,000 diesel Ram pickup trucks and Jeep SUVs to cheat on EPA tests and exceed pollution limits on real roads.

Sergio Pasini, 43, of Ferrera, Italy, and Gianluca Sabbioni, 55, of Sala Bolognese, Italy, each face nine charges including violating the Clean Air Act, wire fraud, and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit said neither man is in custody and would not comment when asked if they will be extradited to the U.S.

Both were described by authorities as senior diesel managers with the company.

They join Emanuele Palma, 42, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, as defendants in the case. He was charged in 2019 but now faces a new 10-count indictment alleging conspiracy, Clean Air Act violations, and that he made false statements to the FBI and the EPA.

In a statement, the Justice Department said the three men had “co-conspirators” in the scheme, indicating that more charges are possible.

All three are accused of purposely calibrating emissions-control software on 3-litre diesel engines so they met nitrogen oxide emissions requirements during EPA test cycles, yet emitted higher pollution while on the road. They referred to the manipulation as “cycle beating,” the statement said.

Messages were left Tuesday seeking comment from Palma’s attorneys. It wasn’t clear if Pasini or Sabbioni have lawyers.

In a statement, Fiat Chrysler, now known as Stellantis after merging with France's PSA Peugeot, said it's co-operating in the investigation and referred to previous statements denying that it took part in a deliberate scheme to program the engines to cheat on tests.

Palma, Pasini and Sabbioni also are accused of causing others “to make false and misleading representations to FCA's regulators about the emissions control functions of the subject vehicles in order to ensure that FCA obtained regulatory approval to sell the subject vehicles in the United States," the Justice Department statement said.

The cheating helped FCA attain best-in-class fuel economy, making the vehicles more attractive to buyers, prosecutors alleged.

In 2019, Fiat Chrysler agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars, including a $300 million fine to the U.S. government, to settle emissions cheating allegations. Under the deal with the Justice Department and the EPA, the automaker must recall and repair the more than 104,000 out-of-compliance SUVs and pickups. The vehicles were made from 2014 through 2016.

Separately, Fiat Chrysler agreed to pay $280 million to settle lawsuits brought by vehicle owners — leading to payouts of about $2,800 per owner — and will pay $19 million to California to settle similar state regulatory allegations.

Fiat Chrysler has maintained that it didn’t deliberately scheme to cheat emissions tests, and the company didn’t admit wrongdoing.

Tom Krisher, The Associated Press

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