DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A Volkswagen engineer who had a key role in the company’s diesel emissions scandal has been sentenced to more than three years in prison and fined $200,000.

The sentence handed down Friday in Detroit was steeper than prosecutors requested for 62-year-old James Robert Liang.

During the hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox said Liang knew the German automaker was cheating and worked to cover it up. The judge imposed a 40-month prison sentence along with two years supervised releases, saying he will allow Liang to return to Germany after his sentence is served.

“This is a very serous and stunning crime that destroys the foundation of our economic system, and that is trust,” Cox said. “Without trust, the economy can’t function.”

“Hopefully the sentence will deter other engineers and managers who think about committing fraud,” the judge added.

Liang had asked the judge to consider a sentence of probation and 1,500 hours of community service, while pprosecutors had requested a 36-month prison term and a $20,000 fine.

Liang last year pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government. He agreed to cooperate with investigators in the U.S. and Germany. He is one of two VW employees to plead guilty, although others charged in the case are in Germany and out of reach.

Liang, who wore a suit in court Friday and was flanked by family members, declined to speak on his own behalf Friday.

Volkswagen and U.S. environmental regulators announced agreement last month on a plan for the automaker to fix most of the diesel cars involved in the emissions cheating scandal.

Volkswagen has admitted that the cars were sold with illegal software programmed to turn on emissions controls during government lab tests and turn them off while on the road. Investigators determined that the cars emitted more than 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide, which can cause respiratory problems in humans.

The company got away with the scheme for seven years until independent researchers reported it to government regulators.

Liang was told he can appeal sentence within 14 days, but it’s unclear at this time if he will do so.

© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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