A North Carolina truck mechanic was sentenced to a year in prison for selling thousands of devices that allowed truck owners to bypass emissions-control systems and produce hundreds of times more pollution than is legally allowed.
Matthew Sidney Geouge, 35, of Hendersonville, N.C., pleaded guilty last year to violating the Clean Air Act and tax evasion. In addition to the prison term, Geouge was also ordered to pay $1.3 million in fines to the EPA, and $1.2 million in back taxes and penalties.
Federal prosecutors say that between 2008 and 2017, Geouge sold around 14,000 kits known as “tuners” or “defeat devices” that helped shut off the emissions systems on mostly diesel-powered pickup trucks.
Some drivers believe the federally mandated control systems, which drastically reduce pollution, inhibit the performance of their trucks.
“[Geouge] tailored software programs for the tuners known as ‘tunes,’ designed to maximize the engine power of particular vehicles resulting in significant increases in harmful air emissions,” according to federal prosecutors in North Carolina.
In all, prosecutors say Geouge took in around $10 million in sales of the devices and the customized encryption software that helped them work without triggering the vehicle’s warning systems.
“Today’s vehicles emit far less pollution than vehicles of the past,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which led the probe into Geouge’s operation. “Aftermarket defeat devices undo this progress and pollute the air we breathe.”
The EPA estimates there are as many as 550,000 medium trucks on the road in the U.S. that have had their emissions controls tampered with. They have estimated that the additional pollution created by those trucks is equivalent to the emissions produced by 9 million trucks operating in compliance with the law.
According to court records, Geouge founded Spartan Diesel Technologies in 2008. The company advertised and sold the emissions shutoff devices, which carried programming that Geouge had written himself, prosecutors said.
In 2015, the EPA issued a citation to Geouge ordering him to stop selling the devices, which prosecutors say he ignored. In 2017 the EPA hit Geouge with a $4 million fine, after which he sold Spartan to another company. That company, however, continued using his encryption software under license.
Three of Geouge’s co-conspirators had previously pleaded guilty and been sentenced to three years of probation and six months of home confinement.
In addition to the EPA violations, prosecutors say Geouge failed to file taxes between 2015 and 2019, and illegally used his business accounts to cover personal expenses, such as buying land and building a home on it and purchasing multiple firearms and ammunition.
Geouge’s attorney declined to comment but, in a memo filed with the court arguing for a more lenient sentence, said his client was a skilled mechanic and entrepreneur who had begun his business as a legitimate diesel repair shop and that the sale of “tuners” had mostly been a sideline.
Washington Watch (February 2022): Biden administration restores waiver for California and other states to set tougher vehicle tailpipe standards