Silence of the Lambs?

You’d think maybe he killed someone.

Oliver Schmidt is facing 169 years in prison.

Earlier this week, the 48-year-old German national was frog-marched before the judge who will preside over his coming criminal trail, shackled at the ankles and waist, wearing an orange, Hannibal Lector-style one-piece jumpsuit.

All that was missing, really, was the face mask.

That – and a victim.

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Schmidt is one of several VW executives implicated in the diesel “cheating” scandal. He is the former chief of the now-writhing-on-the-floor, hoping-for-mercy German car company’s Environmental and Engineering Center in Detroit. VW has thrown him – and six other executives and engineers – under the bus, having already agreed to plead guilty to multiple felony counts.

Not one of them identifying a single specific victim.

This is routine. Which doesn’t make it any less bizarre.

169 years in prison is a sentence harsher than the one meted out to Charles Manson (he has been up for parole several times already) and most run-of-the-mill killers, who generally serve about 20 years.

And they actually killed someone.

If Schmidt gets half the 169 years, he will spend the rest of his natural life behind bars.

What was his “crime” again?

He stands accused of attempted murder . . . of The Law.

And not even that, really.

A regulation.

An EPA-issued fatwa regarding acceptable levels of exhaust emissions. VW – well, Schmidt and the six other fall guys – traduced the EPA’s regulatory standards by programming or otherwise adjusting the ECU (the computer that controls the engine) of TDI diesel-powered VWs to pass the emissions tests required for certification prior to sale, but revert to more mileage-and-performance-friendly programming that resulted in slightly, imperceptibly, higher-than-allowed emissions once out on the road.

That’s it.

Which, by the way, is industry practice.

The car companies “build to the test,” meaning – they program the computers and set up the engines and transmissions to score the best-possible numbers on the government’s tests.

Even if, out in the real world, they operate differently.

Example: Automatic transmissions – the latest having eight, nine or even ten speeds –  are programmed to upshift to the highest gears (which are all overdrive gears) to squeeze out the maximum-possible mileage (and soon, the least carbon dioxide “emissions” – that’s another rant) by cutting engine revs to the minimum. In some cars, the engine actually cuts itself off to coast at times. But out in the real world, without a Faberge Egg under the accelerator, the engine stays on and the transmission downshifts to keep the car moving at a decent clip – and from struggling to keep up.

Your mileage (and carbon “emissions”) will vary.

So why was VW singled out for a 1600s-style witch hunt? Because it was too blatant about its “cheating.” They admitted it. The execs should have said: Whoops! Our software must’ve had a glitch. We’ll fix that…

Kind of like – very much like – telling a cop you “didn’t realize how fast you were going” when you drove through his radar trap.

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