Major Clean Air Act violations alleged in Michigan
By Mike Brezonick27 April 2023
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten announced that three companies and 11 individuals have been charged with violating the Clean Air Act in an aftermarket scheme to disable the emissions control systems of heavy-duty trucks. While the investigation is ongoing, the case is considered one of the largest of its kind ever charged in the United States, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Rapids, Mich., said.
The corporate defendants are Diesel Freak LLC, of Gaylord, and Accurate Truck Service, LLC, and Griffin Transportation, Inc., of Grand Rapids. Totten said that the “criminal charges send a loud message of accountability to polluters who flout our environmental laws.”
“These rules not only protect the planet,” Totten said, “they also protect people – especially the most vulnerable. They safeguard the water we drink, the lakes we fish and the air we breathe. To the owners and drivers of the vehicles that participated in this scheme and are now spewing harmful pollutants – get them fixed now.”
The three companies and individual defendants Ryan Lalone, Wade Lalone, Douglas Larsen, Craig Scholten, Ryan Bos, Robert Swainston, Randy Clelland, Scott DeKock and Glenn Hoezee have all signed plea agreements indicating their intent to plead guilty to a felony information. Defendants Dustin Rhine and James Sisson were indicted by a federal grand jury. Arraignments and change of plea hearings will occur on dates to be set by the U.S. District Court.
According to case records, Ryan Lalone owns Diesel Freak and Wade Lalone, Rhine, and Sisson were employed there. Accurate Truck Service is owned by Larsen, Scholten, and Bos, and Swainston and Clelland were employed there. Griffin Transportation, Inc., is owned by Scholten and Bos. DeKock used to own a shipping company at which Hoezee was employed.
According to the charges, Accurate Truck Service removed or altered emissions hardware from the engines of vehicles. Diesel Freak reprogrammed the engine computers of the vehicles so that they would continue to function even after the hardware was removed or altered. This tampering, court filings said, is sometimes referred to as a “deletion” – that is, “deleting” the emissions controls from the vehicles. Deleting emissions controls can improve engine performance and fuel economy and save maintenance costs.
Griffin Transportation, Inc., and the company DeKock formerly owned engaged Accurate Truck Service and Diesel Freak to “delete” trucks owned, operated or leased by the companies. According to court records, Diesel Freak was involved in at least 362 deletions; Accurate Truck Service in at least 83 deletions; Griffin Transportation in at least 12 deletions; and DeKock’s former company in at least four deletions.
Accurate Truck Service and Griffin Transportation have agreed to pay a combined $1 million fine. Diesel Freak has agreed to pay a $750,000 fine subject to defense arguments regarding inability to pay. Any fine is a part of the criminal sentence and ultimately within the discretion of the sentencing judge.
“By illegally tampering with emissions controls on diesel trucks operating throughout the United States and Canada, defendants caused the excessive release of diesel exhaust containing toxic gases and impurities harmful to public health and the environment,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Richard Conrad of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID). “This case highlights EPA and our law enforcement partners’ continued efforts to prosecute those who violate environmental and public health laws in the U.S. for financial gain.”
Conviction on the conspiracy charges can result in a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000 for an individual, $500,000 for an organization, or twice the gain from the offense, among other penalties. A conviction for violating the Clean Air Act carries a prison term of up to two years and the same fines, among other penalties.