By M.J. Subiria Arauz
A 41-year-old man from Riverdale recently pleaded guilty in federal district court, to violating the Clean Air Act, said a spokesman for The United States Attorney's Office of the Northern District of Georgia.
Patrick Crosby said James Hinton fraudulently issued emissions certificates to cars that would not have passed the emissions inspection required by law.
"Emissions inspectors who issue passing certificates to deficient cars not only commit fraud, they harm our environment by allowing the continuos release of dangerous pollutants into the air we breathe," added Sally Quillian Yates, United States attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.
Crosby explained that co-defendants Michael Kelly, 40, and Jackie Baker, 52, pleaded guilty last month to charges of violating the Clean Air Act, for issuing fraudulent emissions certificates in the same case. Both Kelly and Baker are from Atlanta, he added.
"These defendants [Baker, Hinton and Kelly] were willing to ignore the long-term damage they were causing in exchange for under-the-table payments they received for each fraudulent certificate," said Yates.
Sentencing for Hinton and Baker is scheduled for June 29, said Crosby. Both parties will appear before United States District Judge Orinda Evans. Kelly is scheduled to be sentenced on June 15, he added.
The court will consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, in determining the actual sentence, he said.
Crosby said Baker, Hinton and Kelly were indicted by a federal grand jury, on Feb. 22, for conspiracy and Clean Air Act violations. Each of the defendants could receive a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Baker, Hinton and Kelly were licensed emissions inspectors at a Stop N Shop, in College Park, through May 2009, when they lost their licenses, according to Yates. During a five-month period, from January, to May 2009, the three defendants issued over 1,400 fraudulent emissions certificates to car owners. The certificates included false statements that the owners' cars had passed the emissions test.
The defendants did not connect the owners' cars to the emissions equipment, continued Yates. Instead they connected cars they knew would pass the test. During the inspections, the computer system automatically sent emissions testing data to a statewide database, accessible by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. "The defendants manually entered other information in the system, such as the make, model and vehicle identification number, to make it appear that they were testing the owners' real cars, many of which had already failed an emissions test, or showed equipment malfunctions," she said.
Furthermore, the defendants charged $100, to $125 for a fraudulent emissions test, said Yates. A legitimate inspection usually costs $20, and Georgia law prohibits inspection stations from charging more than $25, she explained.
Crosby said federal agents arrested Kelly, in March 2011 at an emissions shop in Union City. Kelly was "in the process of performing" a fraudulent emissions inspection. His personal vehicle was attached to the emissions equipment, but he had entered information into the system of a different vehicle belonging to someone else. The defendant was denied bond and has been incarcerated since his arrest, he said.