Somerville Auto Inspection Station and Auto Inspector Will Pay $75,000 Civil Penalty
Under the terms of the settlement, Hillside Service Center (Hillside) will pay a total penalty of $63,000 for the 202 alleged fraudulent emissions inspections conducted by its inspector, Robert J. Greenwood, while he was working at Hillside. Robert Boudreau, the owner of Hillside, will pay a civil penalty of $12,000 for his six alleged fraudulent emissions inspections that he conducted as an inspector at Hillside. Authorities allege that these inspections violate the state's Enhanced Emissions and Safety Test program. Additionally, both Hillside and Boudreau will have their respective licenses revoked. The settlement is the result of a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General's Office in 2008. AG Coakley brought this action on behalf of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection ("MassDEP") and MassDOT Registry of Motor Vehicle Division ("RMV").
"Today's settlement makes clear that the state will aggressively pursue those stations and inspectors that fail to inspect motor vehicles in compliance with the Massachusetts Enhanced Emissions and Safety Test Program," said Attorney General Coakley. "Inspection stations and their hired inspectors must realize that they cannot ignore the law with impunity."
"A smart investigation by MassDEP uncovered this station's fraudulent inspections, ending the illegal activity and leveling the playing field for all of those stations that obey the law," said MassDEP Commissioner Laurie Burt. "The emissions testing program ensures that polluting vehicles are identified and fixed. If left unchecked, false tests result in poor air quality for all citizens of the Commonwealth."
"Vehicle safety is our top priority at MassDOT RMV and any inspector who attempts to defraud consumers and compromise the inspection program risk fines and the loss of their inspection license," said Registrar Rachel Kaprielian. "As this investigation shows, we are aggressive in protecting Massachusetts drivers."
The complaint against Hillside and Boudreau, filed on October 23, 2008, alleges that since December 2006, the defendants collectively conducted at least 208 fraudulent emissions inspections. The fraudulent inspections involved an on-board diagnostic (OBD) emissions test. The OBD test is a simple test in which an inspector plugs the scan tool from an inspection workstation into a vehicle's OBD connector, and the workstation's computer queries the vehicle's computer for the status of the emissions control system monitors. The complaint alleges that for each of the fraudulent emissions inspections, the defendants did not conduct an OBD test on the motor vehicle as required, but instead, tested a "clean" vehicle, or one that they knew would pass the test, and then used the results from that test to issue a passing inspection sticker to the vehicle that came in for the inspection. This illegal practice is known as "clean scanning."
The complaint alleged that the clean-scanned inspections not only violated the emissions inspection regulations and the Massachusetts Clean Air Act, but also the Massachusetts Regulation of Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act. By issuing passing inspection stickers to motor vehicles that were not inspected, Hillside and Boudreau falsely represented to the public, including potential purchasers of the motor vehicles at issue, that the vehicles were inspected and that they passed the emissions tests and would not be in need of any repairs on their emission control equipment. The complaint asserted the fraudulent inspections created an unfair competitive advantage for the defendants over the other inspection stations and inspectors that have been complying with the law in conducting emissions inspections.
On April 9, 2010, the Commonwealth filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on liability as to Robert Greenwood for the violations in the complaint, and this motion is currently pending in Suffolk Superior Court.
The lawsuit against Hillside was one of seven enforcement cases the state initiated in October 2008 to target this clean scanning practice among motor vehicle inspection stations and inspectors.
Assistant Attorney General Betsy Harper of Attorney General Coakley's Environmental Protection Division handled the case. Attorney Jennifer Davis handled the case on behalf of the MassDEP with assistance from Stephen Spencer of MassDEP's Environmental Strike Force, Craig Woleader and John Flemmi of MassDEP's Enhanced Emissions and Safety Test Program. Attorney Robert M. Horacek of MassDOT and Mark LaFrance handled the case on behalf of the Registry of Motor Vehicles.