Larry P. Vellequette
Larry P. Vellequette
Fiat Chrysler, VW reporter

Schmidt's statement showed a broken man with misplaced faith in VW

Oliver Schmidt: "I accept responsibility for the wrongs I committed."
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DETROIT -- For a year, Oliver Schmidt's vacant, unsmiling, almost defiant stare has been the face of Volkswagen's $30 billion diesel emissions scandal.

But that was not the face the 48-year-old German-born executive wore in a federal courtroom in Detroit on Wednesday.

The stare from a Florida booking photo taken shortly after his surprise January arrest outside a restroom at Miami International Airport was gone moments before his all-but-certain fate: six more years in a prison cell, a $400,000 fine, and immediate deportation back to Germany as soon as he was free.

The Oliver Schmidt sitting at the defense table Wednesday -- the one clad now in prison garb instead of a high-priced suit -- was a different man, one who had been abruptly separated not only from his family and freedom, but abandoned by the religion of his adult life: Volkswagen.

And the top of this broken man's bald head flushed with emotion as he tearfully read a statement to a courtroom filled with his family.

"For the disruption to my own life, I only have to blame myself," Schmidt said, his earlier staccato tone and pace now halting and emotional. "The hardest part is knowing the pain I have caused to those who love me most, most especially my wife Kerstin, who dropped everything to move from Germany to the U.S. to be closer to me, so we can continue to support one another as we have done for the past 20 years."

And then, in the courtroom, the brilliant engineer who had spent his adult life working for Wolfsburg, doing everything his bosses had asked and more because of his unshakable faith in his employer, finally accepted that his faith had been misplaced and his loyalty abused.

"I accept responsibility for the wrongs I committed," Schmidt told the courtroom. "I must say that getting to this point was not easy. I made bad decisions and for that I am sorry. For a time, I was in denial that I personally did something wrong. I justified my bad decisions by telling myself that I was obligated to stick to my superiors' instructions."

He clarified that his superiors had led him astray had all been fired by Volkswagen in September 2015 when the scandal became public.

"The man that stands before you here today is no longer in denial or making justifications," Schmidt continued. "I tried to misuse my relationship with an American regulator -- a person whom I considered a friend -- to achieve the 2016 certification for VW 2.0-liter diesel engines. When I met with him I did not disclose the intentional cheating that had gone on for almost ten years."

Schmidt continued: "In short, I tried to continue VW's strategy of concealing the defeat device [software] from American regulators. This was wrong."

And then the last vestige of Schmidt's defiance disappeared.

"Sitting here today it is of course easy to say what I could have or should have done differently. As I wrote to you before, I wish I did do things differently," Schmidt told U.S. District Judge Sean Cox. "But none of that is of any use. I am deeply sorry for the wrongs I committed, and I am as ready as I will ever be to accept the punishment you believe is just and fair."

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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