BOSTON — Attorney General Maura Healey and her New York counterpart have filed lawsuits alleging Volkswagen and affiliated car brands defrauded customers about diesel emissions and engaged in an extensive cover-up, the pair announced Tuesday.
Healey's suit, filed Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges that car manufacturers Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche "acted in concert to violate environmental laws and perpetrate a massive fraud on regulators and consumers."
"Recent history reveals several instances of corporations that have mislead investors, regulators or consumers. This is nothing new, unfortunately," Healey said during a press conference in New York City. "But I'm not sure we've ever encountered a scheme as comprehensive as what Volkswagen attempted to pull off. Here we have three affiliated brands teaming up to make a conscious decision to break the law, not just once, but over and over again."
Both Healey and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said they hoped the lawsuits, which grew out of a multi-state investigation, would serve as a deterrent to other companies.
"The toxic corporate culture that produced their fraud must be stopped," said Schneiderman, a Democrat who has served as New York's attorney general since 2011.
Volkswagen had marketed its diesel-engine cars as environmentally friendly, though certain vehicles "spewed harmful emissions into our air, putting the environment and our residents at risk," Healey said. She said 15,000 Massachusetts consumers bought such cars.
Healey's lawsuit alleges that the company outfitted cars with devices that ramped up or turned on pollution control equipment during emissions tests, but dialed down or turned off the pollution control when the cars were driven on the road. According to the suit, the devices obscured a failure to comply with emissions standards, and their use was concealed for over a decade.
"This was not indeed the work of some one, rogue employee but rather a calculated, concerted effort by dozens of employees officers, senior executives, who worked together to orchestrate this plan to mislead regulators, researchers and the public," Healey said.
On June 28, Volkswagen announced settlement agreements with the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, the state of California and private plaintiffs to resolve civil claims regarding certain Volkswagen and Audi diesel-engine vehicles, with a settlement funding pool of up to $10 billion. The company also agreed with the attorneys general of 44 states "to resolve existing and potential consumer protection claims related to the diesel matter for a total settlement of amount of approximately $603 million."
"We take our commitment to make things right very seriously and believe these agreements are a significant step forward," Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller said in a statement in June. "We appreciate the constructive engagement of all the parties, and are very grateful to our customers for their continued patience as the settlement approval process moves ahead. We know that we still have a great deal of work to do to earn back the trust of the American people. We are focused on resolving the outstanding issues and building a better company that can shape the future of integrated, sustainable mobility for our customers."
Healey and Schneiderman have joined forces before on environmental issues. In March, she met with Schneiderman and other attorneys general in New York to announce an investigation into Exxon Mobil.
In prepared remarks from the March 29 press conference, Healey said there was a "troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew and what the company shared with the public regarding the consequences of burning the fuel it markets."
Exxon filed a petition asking the Suffolk Superior Court to set aside Healey's civil investigative demand, arguing both that the court lacked jurisdiction and that Healey's office was "impermissibly biased" against the company. Exxon argued the investigation was rooted in "the hope of finding some ammunition to enhance the Attorney General's position in the policy debate concerning how to respond to climate change."