Federal Prosecutors Indict Participants in Smog Check Inspection Scheme

On Thursday, April 4, 2024, federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment charging 12 people with conspiracy to cheat California Smog Check inspections. Federal prosecutors reported the scheme involved the use of a cheating device—marketed as the “OBDNator”— to falsify Smog Check inspection results and pass vehicles that would have otherwise failed inspection. According to the indictment, the criminal ring developed and distributed the device which was then used at numerous Smog Check stations throughout the state between October 2015 and March 2024.

This case is the result of a joint investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation with assistance from the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Homeland Security Investigations San Diego. According to court documents, the defendants used the OBDNator instead of a vehicle’s On-Board Diagnostic system to transmit fraudulent Smog Check information to BAR.

It is unclear how many vehicles were subject to the alleged cheating scheme, but a 2023 analysis showed a 13.5% Smog Check failure rate of vehicles inspected by BAR at random roadside checkpoints compared to a 7% failure rate at licensed Smog Check stations. Not only is illegal Smog Check activity in violation of the federal Clean Air Act, but it also undermines the integrity of the Smog Check Program and poses a threat to the hard-won progress made in improving California air quality. While BAR has made significant advances in detecting fraudulent Smog Check activity and ensuring the vast majority of vehicles are compliant with emissions standards, this case underscores the ongoing need for oversight and enforcement to maintain the effectiveness of the Smog Check Program.

To learn more about the indictment, read the press release issued by the United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California.

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