This may be the last time Matthew Sidney Geourge will get to breathe clean air on Independence Day until 2024 — and that could be seen as good news for anyone who has swallowed a burst of black smoke belching from the back end of a Ford diesel pickup.
Geourge was convicted in federal court for selling so-called “defeat devices” that can override the emissions systems built into Ford F-Series trucks using the 6.4-liter Power Stroke diesel, violating the U.S. Clean Air Act. The case means he is facing one year and a day behind bars. His company’s meanwhile, has been hit with a $2 million fine. The case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice also accused Geourge of tax evasion.
Defeat devices have created quite a bit of havoc for the auto industry in recent years. Volkswagen has so far spent more than $35 billion to settle federal and state lawsuits after it was discovered that the automaker used hidden technology to pass EPA diesel emissions regulations with a variety of VW, Audi and Porsche vehicles.
But Spartan Diesel Technologies was one of several “tuner” companies selling aftermarket systems that disabled emissions controls on vehicles that, at least from the factory, passed emissions mandates. For some, devices like Spartan’s Phalanx were used to make added power on the track. Others have bought the devices for political reasons, using them to belch out “rolling coal” clouds of smoke.
Feds amp up the battle
The EPA has been battling with Spartan since 2015, when it first issued a violation notice. The company failed to respond, the government issuing a $4.15 million fine two years later. According to the Department of Justice, Geourge tried to sidestep that fine through a series of steps, including a supposed sale of Spartan to another firm called Patriot Diagnostics.
The DoJ stepped in and added criminal charges to the headaches that George and Spartan faced. He wound up pleading guilty last year and a judge has now sentenced him to not only jail time but an additional six months of home confinement. He will then face another three years of close supervision.
On top of the $1.2 million in fines now owed the EPA, the IRS has hit Geourge with an addition $1.2 million bill for tax evasion.
Three associates at Spartan will face home confinement of six months each, along with probation, community serves and penalties — though they avoided jail time.
Spartan not alone
According to the government, Spartan had sold about 14,000 of the Phalanx devices.
There are a number of companies that have come up with tuner devices for diesel vehicles like the F-150. Some market them specifically for use on track, and most now ensure that the vehicles will continue to meet the Clean Air Act. Among other things, they cannot remove the diesel particulate trap as was done with the Spartan system.
But a few other tuners have put out devices that effectively disable that and factory emissions components. EZ Lynk was sued last year for failing to cooperate with an EPA investigation. Its devices could be used on other models, such as the Ram 1500 using a Cummins diesel engine.
Adding larger fuel injectors can result in a massive plume of jet black soot when a driver hits the throttle.
The federal government has begun cracking down on both tuners and individual diesel owners. Many of those motorists have adopted a political stand opposing federal regulations and contesting the concept of global warming. But those into the “rolling coal” movement need beware.
“As of Jan. 13, 2020, a person may be liable for a maximum civil penalty of $4,819 per defeat device manufactured, sold, or installed, or per vehicle tampered,” the EPA noted in a statement on its website.