Maxine Bernstein / (TNS)

The owner of a Hillsboro diesel vehicle repair shop will spend six months in federal prison and his shop will pay a $148,233 penalty to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for disabling pollution controls on the cars and trucks of more than 200 customers.

Travis Turner, 38, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Portland to the misdemeanor of being an accessory after the fact to Clean Air Act tampering and entered a guilty plea on behalf of his company, Pure Addiction Diesel Performance, to the felony of Clean Air Act tampering. He formed the limited liability corporation in March 2013.

The Clean Air Act directs the Environmental Protection Agency to issue regulations limiting the amount of pollutants that motor vehicles can emit.

From 2018 to 2020, Turner’s shop removed the emissions controls from about 245 diesel vehicles for customers and then “tuned” the on-board computer systems to ensure they wouldn’t detect the removal of the pollution controls.

Without the control, the 245 vehicles will collectively emit an estimated 245 additional tons of nitrogen oxides and more than 4,400 pounds of particulate matter into the environment over their lifespans, said Karla Gebel Perrin, a special assistant U.S. attorney. The pollutants are linked to asthma, breathing problems, heart-related problems and cancer, Perrin said.

Turner, a Forest Grove resident, was well-aware of the tampering done in his shop as he oversaw the work and then provided inaccurate information to the EPA when its civil enforcement division inquired about the activity, according to Perrin.

He provided invoices for 46 customer vehicles that contained inaccurate or incorrect information, claiming the shop had only sold parts, when further investigation revealed it had performed the work that altered the emissions controls, according to the government.

The modifications are often marketed to diesel vehicle owners to improve horsepower, torque or fuel efficiency or reduce the cost of having to replace diesel exhaust fluid or clogged filters, according to the prosecutor.

Further, some drivers simply don’t like the EPA regulations and “just think it’s cool to blow black smoke” out of their vehicles, known as “rolling coal,” Perrin said.

Turner’s shop was known in the community for performing the illegal modifications, she said. The company charged customers about $2,000 for the parts and labor to remove emissions control systems, according to the prosecutor.

Attorney Kevin Collins, who represented Turner and his company, said Turner understood that what he did was illegal, has accepted responsibility and stopped in 2020 when EPA investigators confronted him.

Turner has no prior criminal record and largely “pulled himself up by his own bootstraps” after his father died at a young age, Collins said.

Turner’s customers became his friends, Collins said, and he pointed to the two rows of family and friends who sat in the courtroom’s public gallery to support Turner.

When asked if he wanted to address the judge, Turner, dressed in a gray suit, became overcome with emotion, grabbed a tissue and lifted his black-rimmed eyeglasses to wipe tears from his eyes. He whispered to his lawyer, “I can’t say anything.”

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon accepted the negotiated plea agreement, which allows Turner to personally avoid a felony conviction. Turner waived indictment and agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor offense and spend time in custody to avoid a felony conviction on his record, Perrin told the judge.

“We cannot live together in a civilized society intentionally and knowingly breaking the law,” Simon said.

The judge said he was disturbed to learn about the adverse health effects resulting from the violations of federal regulations.

“Congress and the EPA are doing their best to protect us all from this type of pollution,” he said. “We want to live in a clean environment. … I think it’s very serious when people intentionally flout and ignore, evade and violate those laws.”

Turner has agreed to surrender to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Aug. 3. He requested to serve his time at the federal prison camp in Sheridan.

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