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Sinister Diesel pleads guilty and agrees to $1 million in fines and penalties

Shop is charged with conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act by tampering with the monitoring device of an emissions control system of a diesel truck

Sacramento, Calif.—Diesel performance parts manufacturer Sinister Diesel of Roseville pleaded guilty to criminal charges on Tuesday in federal court and agreed to pay a total of $1 million in criminal fines and civil penalties. The company also agreed to implement a compliance program and to not manufacture, sell or install any device that defeats a vehicle’s emissions controls.

Sinister Diesel pleaded guilty to a two-count Information, charging it with conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act (CAA) and defraud the United States, and with violating the CAA by tampering with the monitoring device of an emissions control system of a diesel truck. Under the plea agreement, the defendant agrees to pay a $500,000 criminal fine.

Sinister must pay an additional $500,000 under the civil consent decree, which the United States filed simultaneously with its civil complaint against Sinister, alleging violations of the CAA’s prohibition against the sale or manufacture of devices that bypass, defeat or render inoperative emissions controls.

The civil consent decree prohibits the company from making, selling, or offering to sell defeat products, including delete tuners, and prevents Sinister Diesel from transferring intellectual property that would allow others to make such products. To ensure compliance with these requirements, Sinister Diesel will implement a robust internal training program and notify its distributors and former customers about the settlement.

“For close to 10 years, Sinister Diesel sold parts designed to override or disable the emissions control systems on trucks,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA testing has shown that a vehicle altered with these parts can emit more than 100 times the amount of certain harmful air pollutants, compared to a vehicle with an intact emissions control system. This case shows that we will aggressively prosecute those who manufacture and sell devices designed to defeat vehicle emissions controls.”

According to court documents, Sinister Diesel — from its 2010 incorporation to April 2020 — manufactured and sold parts intended to be installed on motor vehicles, particularly diesel trucks, to enable “deleting” the trucks by removing or disabling the trucks’ emissions control systems.

Various products, referred to as “delete devices” or “defeat devices,” are used in the process of “deleting” a vehicle. Sinister often sold its products as part of “delete kits,” sometimes bundled with “delete tunes.” The delete tunes were software produced by another company which could alter a diesel truck’s onboard computer to allow a truck with its emissions controls “deleted” to appear to run normally.

Through its employees, Sinister Diesel reached agreements with other companies that manufactured tuners or tuning platforms to sell their products bundled together. Sinister would often advise customers on other needed parts for their deleted vehicles to run properly with Sinister’s delete kits — such as a tuner or tuning platform and delete tunes — and sell them those products, too. Sinister also counseled customers on how to evade state emissions tests.

Though Sinister sometimes labeled its delete products for “racing” and included disclaimers in marketing materials indicating that its products should be used only in off-road settings, the company knew most of its delete products were purchased by diesel truck drivers who used those products on public roads, not racetracks.

At times, approximately 25% of Sinister’s gross revenue stemmed from its delete products. According to Sinister’s sales statistics, between October 30, 2015, and July 17, 2017, it sold 39,792 defeat devices, including at least 35,960 kits that disable vehicles’ exhaust gas recirculation systems.

Deleting a diesel truck causes its emissions to increase dramatically. For example, for a fully deleted truck with all emissions equipment removed, EPA testing has quantified the increased emissions as follows: Nitrogen oxides increased 310 times, non-methane hydrocarbons increased 1,400 times, carbon monoxide increased 120 times and particulate matter increased 40 times. EPA’s Air Enforcement Division released a report in November 2020 finding that more than 500,000 diesel pickup trucks in the United States — approximately 15% of U.S. diesel trucks that were originally certified with emissions controls — have been illegally deleted.

The defendant is scheduled to be sentenced in the criminal case by U.S. District Court Judge John A. Mendez for the Eastern District of California on Nov. 14, 2023. Though Sinister Diesel agreed to pay a $500,000 criminal fine under its plea agreement, the company faces — for each count — a maximum fine of $500,000 or twice the gross pecuniary gain derived from the offense. Its sentence will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of all applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

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