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Rhode Island trucking company owner admits to ‘conspiracy’ to defeat emission control devices

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The owner and President of a North Kingstown trucking company pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy charges related to a complex scheme to help other companies delete emission controls from semi trucks.

Michael J. Collins and affiliated companies pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act, according to an April 3 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island.

Authorities say that between September of 2014 through approximately August 27, 2019, Collins, his North Kingstown company M&D Transportation, Inc.; his now-defunct computer company Diesel Tune-Ups of RI, Inc., various trucking and diesel vehicle sales and repair companies throughout the United States, and a foreign national, all conspired together to alter or disable certain functions of the Electronic Control Modules (ECM) and On Board Diagnostic (OBD) monitoring systems of heavy-duty diesel vehicles such as semi-trucks or “big rigs.” These type of alterations are often referred to as “tunes.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office describes the scheme:

In exchange for a fee, the foreign national would download tuning software through a laptop computer, provided by Collins and his companies, that was then connected to each vehicle.  The tuning business was marketed on Facebook, with claims that it provided increased power and better fuel mileage and offered tuning for “BigRig semi-trucks & engines” including tuning related to emission control equipment. The Facebook page directed interested companies to contact a Rhode Island telephone number associated with Collins, M & D and Diesel Tune-Ups. 

When tuning was done through a laptop computer, Collins instructed the Companies to call the foreign national for further instructions once they had received the laptop.  Through a remote connection, the “tunes” were then downloaded onto each vehicle’s ECM or computer to reprogram the vehicle’s monitoring systems. The tunes tampered with the vehicle’s monitoring systems so that they would not detect malfunctions in the emission control components, thereby allowing vehicles to operate without proper emission controls. As a result, “tuned” vehicles could run with increased horsepower and torque, which can reduce maintenance and repair costs, but which results in significant increases in pollutant emissions. Often, installation of the “tunes” was undertaken in concert with diesel sales and service centers that were making other changes to trucks’ pollution control systems.  Collins also employed the same techniques to circumvent emission controls on some of M & D’s own diesel vehicles.

Customers paid Collins’ companies between $1,700 and $3,650 for each vehicle tuned. Collins and his companies wired a portion of the funds to their foreign co-conspirator and retained a portion of the funds for themselves. From at least March of 2017 through at least June 1, 2018, Collins either deposited or caused to be deposited into the Diesel Tune-Ups bank account fees received from approximately 25 different diesel trucking or repair shops throughout the United States.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 10, 2023.

“Tampering with diesel vehicles by installing defeat devices increases emissions of smog and soot, both of which contribute to serious health problems that often disproportionately affect families, especially children, living in underserved communities,” stated Tyler Amon, Special Agent in Charge for EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division for New England. “Placing profit over public health in Rhode Island has clear accountability.”

The case was investigated by the EPA Criminal Investigation Division – Boston Area Office.

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