BEYOND BERGEN: Three men who operated an automobile inspection business in Paterson admitted in court in Hackensack yesterday that they rigged machines to pass vehicles that had failed emissions inspections, at up to $150 a pop.
The vehicles were then taken to central inspection facilities — including those in Lodi, Paramus and Wayne — where they passed, the trio said.
In exchange for their guilty pleas tampering with public records and violating the Air Pollution Control Act , prosecutors agreed to 364-day sentences in the Bergen County Jail (not state prison) and a minimum of three years of probation for:
Christopher Alcantara, 29, of Paterson, (above, left), who owns Five Stars Auto Inspection on First Avenue;
Mariano Alcantara, 52, of Clifton (above, middle), who is Alcantara’s uncle;
Lewis Alcantara-Sosa, 23, of Paterson (above, right), who is Christopher’s cousin and Mariano’s nephew.
“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,” New Jersey Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.
Investigators not only watched the operation — they brought two undercover vehicles to the trio, which then passed inspection, Hoffman said.
The morning of this past Jan. 15, they raided Five Stars, seizing six simulators and records, among other evidence.
The defendants 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, Hoffman said a joint investigation by the DCA, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection found.
“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.”
As a release from Hoffman’s office explained:
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.
Authorities alleged that Alcantaras 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.
They then charged customers up to $150 each in return for using OBD simulators to enable the customers’ vehicles to pass emissions inspections, Hoffman said.
Deputy Attorneys General Debra Conrad and Michael King of the DCA handled the prosecution.
The lead investigators: Detectives Sean Egan and Ruben Contreras, assisted by Nicholas Olenick, Joseph C. Saiia, Lt. Bill Newsome and Sgt. Pat Kendig of the DCA; Investigator Frank VanWie, Manager James Arose and Compliance Officer Theodore Lefkowich of the MVC; and Environmental Engineer Jeffrey Kennedy of the DEP.
PHOTOS: Courtesy NJ ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE
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