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SoCal Ring Gets Busted for Allegedly Profiting From Cheating Smog Checks

SoCal Ring Gets Busted for Allegedly Profiting From Cheating Smog Checks

Alex Gromov puts a probe into the tailpipe of a car as he performs a smog check at Marinwood Smog Check December 12, 2007 in San Rafael, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California Insider Staff

California Insider Staff

4/8/2024

Updated: 4/8/2024

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Members of a Southern California ring were charged with conspiracy to cheat vehicle smog checks, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced April 4 in a statement.
Twelve are now facing federal charges for using devices called “OBDNators” between October 2015 and last month to make polluting vehicles appear as if they had passed California smog inspection tests.
Smog tests are required in the state for hybrid, alternative fuel and gas vehicles from model year 1976 and up with the aim of improving air quality, according to the Bureau of Automotive Repair.
“For many years, California’s Smog Check Program has successfully reduced the amount of pollution in the air we breathe,” U.S. Attorney Philip A. Talbert said in the statement. “The developer and users of the OBDNator smog check cheating devices who are charged in the indictment … polluted the air we breathe for their own profit and harmed the health of Californians.”
“OBDNators” are simulator devices that were allegedly developed by one of the defendants, Hossam “Sam” Hemdan, 54. They were then sold and distributed for as much as $18,000, the statement said.
According to the statement, smog checks are typically performed by plugging inspection equipment into a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics port. To cheat smog tests, the conspirators instead plugged the equipment into the OBDNator device, which would make it look as though the vehicle had passed regardless of the condition of its emission control system.
When used skillfully and with current software updates, such devices, at times, have surpassed the Bureau of Automotive Repair’s ability to detect them, the statement said.
The following eight suspects were charged with conspiracy and making false statements pursuant to the Clean Air Act, the nation’s main federal law to regulate emissions of air pollutants:
  • Hossam “Sam” Hemdan, 54, of Hawthorne, who owned and controlled several smog stations in Hawthorne and elsewhere. He designed, manufactured, and sold the OBDNator devices.
  • Javier Salguero, 47, of Inglewood, who owned and controlled several smog shops, including one in Bell and two in Maywood.
  • Oscar Gomez, 36, of Rancho Cucamonga, who ran a school for automotive technicians in Rancho Cucamonga.
  • Guillermo Tovar, 35, of Fontana, who worked at multiple smog stations.
  • Arwa Harb, 53, of Redondo Beach, who owned and controlled smog stations, including in Wilmington and South Gate.
  • Minh Truong, 45, of San Jose, who operated out of smog stations owned by Thong Truong, who also was charged.
  • Thong Truong, 40, of San Jose, who owned and controlled smog stations, including one in Newark and one in San Jose. Truong also used the OBDNator devices.
  • Michael Nguyen, 38, of National City, who operated out of a smog station in Spring Valley.
The statement said that four other defendants were also charged with conspiracy:
  • Yehia Harb, 36, of Hawthorne, who owned and controlled a smog shop that was formerly in Venice and is now in Hawthorne.
  • Khaled Hamdan, 31, of Hawthorne, who worked at businesses owned by Mr. Hemdan.
  • Jeremy Earls, 37, of Lakewood, who owned and controlled smog stations, including two in Long Beach.
  • Nas Meshal, 30, of La Palma, who used the OBDNator devices.
Those charged with conspiracy could spend five years in prison and pay a fine of $250,000, while the false statements charge could result in a maximum jail term of two years and a $250,000 fine for each count, the statement said.
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