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Rigged emission tests lead to prison, fine

A federal judge in Charlotte this week delivered a time-honored message:

It’s not nice to fool around with Mother Nature.

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn sentenced a Charlotte man to 18 months in prison for rigging more than 530 vehicle emission inspections. Jassim Juburi, prosecutors says, took bribes as high as $100 a car.

Juburi, a mechanic and licensed emissions inspector at Central Auto Inspection & Repair, 2020 Central Ave., must also pay a $15,000 fine. He was sentenced Thursday.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Juburi pleaded guilty in March 2012 to one count of conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act by making fraudulent inspections.

Despite his plea, investigators say, Juburi made almost a dozen more phony inspections, stopping only after the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Central Auto’s inspection license for 10 years. Juburi has been in federal custody since October.

The Charlotte region has been battling bad air for decades. The Clean Air Act requires annual emission inspections here because most of the metropolitan area flunks the federal standard for ozone, a potent gas that can cause lung and breathing problems, and which is built, in part, from engine emissions.

The American Lung Association ranked the city’s air 19th-worst in the country this year because of ozone. Past rankings have placed Charlotte in the top-10 worst.

Most motorists in about half of North Carolina’s 100 counties are required to have their vehicles tested for emissions each year at one of the 7,000 private inspection stations overseen by the state. Owners of cars that fail the test often face expensive repairs to meet the emission standards.

A 2011 investigation by the Observer found that some garages undermine the testing by falsifying results, sometimes for bribes. The process is known as “clean scanning.”

That same year, two arrests were made at a north Charlotte garage where more than 12,000 inspections took place over a three-year period but only 854 cars failed.

At Central Auto, investigators say Juburi took bribes to give dirty cars clean bills of health. He did so by hooking up surrogate vehicles to his emissions-testing equipment.

Sometimes he took even bigger shortcuts. Undercover investigators received an emissions certificate from Juburi, prosecutors say, without ever dropping off a car.

The Juburi probe involved investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency office in Atlanta, the State Bureau of Investigation and N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles.

DMV spokeswoman Marge Howell said the sweep of agencies – and the specter of jail time and other penalties – has led to a statewide drop in clean scanning.

“Inspection stations all over the state have gotten the word,” she said. “Well, obviously, not all of them, but most of them have.”

Gordon: 704-358-5095
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