|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that three men who formerly operated a private auto inspection business in Paterson were sentenced to jail today for fraudulently using data simulators to generate false results for motor vehicle emissions inspections. The men 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.
Each of these defendants was sentenced to 364 days in the county jail as a condition of three years of probation by Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian in Bergen County. All three pleaded guilty on March 2 to tampering with public records and violating the Air Pollution Control Act:
- Christopher Alcantara, 29, of Paterson, the former owner of Five Stars Auto Inspection at 34 1st Avenue in Paterson;
- Mariano Alcantara, 52, of Clifton, (an uncle of Christopher Alcantara); and
- Lewis Alcantara-Sosa, 23, of Paterson, (cousin of Christopher and nephew of Mariano).
The three men were indicted on Oct. 9, 2014, as 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.
Deputy Attorney General Debra Conrad and Deputy Attorney General Michael W. King prosecuted the defendants and handled the sentencings for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau.
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.
The state’s investigation revealed that, on numerous occasions from Sept 2013 through January 2014, when they were initially charged, 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 charged between $80 and $150 in return for using an OBD simulator to enable the customer’s vehicle to pass the emissions inspection. They frequently installed the OBD simulator at Five Stars Auto Inspection, which is a PIF, but then took the vehicle to central inspection facilities, particularly the Lodi CIF. They also used the Paramus CIF.
During the course of the investigation, investigators conducted surveillance of the defendants and Five Stars Auto Inspection. In addition, they arranged for the defendants to install OBD simulators in two undercover vehicles so that they would pass inspection. On Jan. 15, 2013, investigators executed a search warrant at Five Stars Auto Inspection, where they seized evidence including six OBD simulators and records. Christopher and Mariano Alcantara were arrested that day and lodged in jail with bail set at $50,000 for each. Lewis Alcantara-Sosa was charged by summons and released.
Deputy Attorneys General Debra Conrad and Michael King of the Division of Criminal Justice presented the case to the state grand jury, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Jill Mayer, Chief of the Specialized Crimes Bureau. The lead investigators were, for the Division of Criminal Justice, Detective Sean Egan and State Investigator Ruben Contreras, 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.