The owner, two employees, and a customer of a 1st Avenue private automobile inspection facility were indicted earlier today, according to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.
City resident Christopher Alcantara, 29, owned and operated Five Stars Auto Inspection on 34 1st Avenue with two employees Mariano Alcantara, 52, of Clifton, and Lewis Alcantara-Sosa, 22, of Paterson. All three were indicted today on charges of second-degree conspiracy, second-degree computer theft, third-degree tampering with public records, and third-degree two counts of violation of the Air Pollution Control Act.
Authorities also brought charges against a customer of the shop, Gary Davis, 62, of Rochelle Park. Davis was indicted on the same charges. Authorities said Davis allegedly knowingly paid the Alcantaras to obtain passing results for his limousines.
The owner and his two relatives took payments from customers for using an electronic device to generate passing vehicle inspections on cars that failed emission inspections, authorities said. The device was plugged into the vehicle’s onboard diagnostic systems. Mariano Alcantara is Christopher Alcantara’s uncle. Lewis Alcantara-Sosa is a cousin of the owner.
The Division of Criminal Justice, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, investigated the business charging the owner and his two employees in January.
“These defendants allegedly profited at the expense of all of us by fraudulently allowing customers to neglect their vehicles and pump unlawful levels of toxic emissions into the air that we breathe,” said acting attorney general John Hoffman. “This was a crime against our health as well as our environment.”
Passenger cars made after 1996 have an onboard diagnostic (OBD) system that monitors the vehicle’s emission system. Typically during an inspection the inspector connects a state-approved data-link connector to retrieve data from the OBD system to pass or fail a vehicle. After a vehicle failed inspection the inspector in this case temporarily installed an OBD simulator in place of the data link to generate false data so the vehicle passes inspection.
Authorities said the shop charged customers $80-$150 to use the device to pass a vehicle through inspection. Employees at times took the vehicles which failed emissions inspection, installed an OBD simulator inside, to the Lodi and Paramus central inspection facility.
Authorities setup surveillance at the shop during investigation to catch the offenders red-handed. Investigators arranged the suspects to install the simulator in two undercover vehicles so that they would pass inspection.
Investigators obtained warrants following the investigation to raid the shop. Authorities seized six simulators and records arresting the three. Davis was not included in the initial announcement authorities made of the arrests.
Davis works as a limo driver who is responsible for maintaining the cars. He allegedly paid the shop to obtain passing inspection for several of his limousines. Although Davis was not mentioned in the announcement he too was arrested during that warrant execution.
“We will aggressively prosecute dishonest operators who cheat the system and threaten the public’s health,” director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice said.
“This type of behavior is not acceptable,“ Bob Martin of the department of environmental protection said.
The second-degree crimes have a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and fines up to $150,000. The charges of second-degree computer theft carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility for a third or half of the imposed sentence. Third-degree crimes have a sentence of three to five years in state prison and fines as much as $15,000, authorities said.
“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 Raymond Martinez. “These repair shops are meant to be the solution – not the problem – to keeping countless tons of pollutants out of our air.”