|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that three men who operate a private auto inspection business in Paterson were charged today with fraudulently using data simulators to generate false results for motor vehicle emissions inspections. The men allegedly took payments from customers in return for using the electronic devices to generate passing results for vehicles that had failed emissions inspections, which rely on data from onboard diagnostic systems.
The charges are the result of a joint investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The Division of Criminal Justice charged the following individuals with second-degree conspiracy, second-degree computer crimes and third-degree tampering with public records or information:
- Christopher Alcantara, 28, of Paterson, owner of Five Stars Auto Inspection, which is located at 34 1st Avenue in Paterson;
- Mariano Alcantara, 51, of Clifton, (an uncle of Christopher Alcantara); and
- Lewis Alcantara-Sosa, 21, of Paterson, (cousin of Christopher and nephew of Mariano).
Christopher and Mariano Alcantara were arrested this morning by detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice and were lodged in the Bergen County Jail with bail set at $50,000 for each. Lewis Alcantara was charged by summons and was released without posting bail after he was processed on the charges.
“This type of fraud threatens the very air that we breathe, because it results in more poorly maintained vehicles on our roadways and more toxic emissions,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “We will not tolerate dishonest individuals who seek to turn a profit at the expense of public health and the environment.”
“The message here is that those who commit inspection fraud will face stern punishment,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We have the capacity to detect the use of a data simulator, and anyone caught faces serious prison time, like these defendants.”
“The state’s stringent emissions testing program is designed to enable us to get the offending ‘polluters’ off of our roadways and into repair shops,” said Motor Vehicle Commission Chairman and Chief Administrator Raymond P. Martinez. “These repair shops are meant to be the solution – not the problem – to keeping countless tons of pollutants out of our air.”
“We are committed to protecting the quality of our air and enforcing the laws and regulations that protect the health of our residents and our environment,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. “This type of behavior will not be tolerated.”
Most passenger cars and light-duty vehicles of model year 1996 or later have an onboard diagnostic (OBD) system that monitors the vehicle’s emissions system. During an OBD inspection, an inspector at a private inspection facility (PIF) or a central inspection facility (CIF) connects state-approved inspection equipment to a standardized “data link connector” in the vehicle to retrieve OBD data in order to determine whether the vehicle passes or fails.
It is alleged that, on numerous occasions during the past year, the defendants temporarily installed OBD simulators in place of the data link connector in vehicles that had failed emissions inspections in order to generate false data that enabled the vehicles to pass inspection. The defendants allegedly charged customers up to $150 in return for using OBD simulators to enable the customers’ vehicles to pass emissions inspections. It is alleged that they frequently installed the OBD simulator at Five Stars Auto Inspection, which is a PIF, but then took the vehicle to central inspection facilities, including the Lodi, Paramus and Wayne CIFs.
During the course of the investigation, investigators conducted surveillance of the defendants and Five Stars Auto Inspection. In addition, they allegedly arranged for the defendants to install OBD simulators in two undercover vehicles so that they would pass inspection. Investigators executed a search warrant today at Five Stars Auto Inspection, where they seized evidence including OBD simulators and records. Investigators have the ability to detect fraud by reviewing data in the vehicle inspection database, where they can identify the “electronic fingerprint” of OBD simulators that are being used to falsify inspection results.
Deputy Attorney General Debra Conrad of the Division of Criminal Justice is the prosecutor assigned to the case, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Jill Mayer, Chief of the Specialized Crimes Bureau. The lead investigators are, for the Division of Criminal Justice, Detective Sean Egan, under the supervision of Lt. Bill Newsome and assisted by Detective Nicholas Olenick, Detective Joseph C. Saiia Jr. and Sgt. Pat Kendig; for the Motor Vehicle Commission, Investigator Frank VanWie of the Division of Security, Investigation and Internal Audit, and Manager James Arose and Compliance Officer Theodore Lefkowich of the Enhanced Inspection and Maintenance Unit; and for the Department of Environmental Protection, Environmental Engineer Jeffrey Kennedy of the Bureau of Mobile Sources.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. In addition, the charge of second-degree computer crimes carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed. Third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because they are indictable offenses, the charges will be presented to a grand jury for potential indictment.