SALT LAKE CITY — An attorney for an environmental group on Monday quizzed “Diesel Brothers” reality TV star David Sparks about the marketing motivation and financial results of removing pollution control equipment from trucks he sold.
Sparks, known as “Heavy D” on the Discovery Channel show about the truck-building men from Woods Cross, testified in U.S. District Court in a civil trial over Clean Air Act violations.
Judge Robert Shelby already ruled in September that the pollution equipment modifications constituted environmental violations. The trial is to determine the extent and form of financial penalties and further injunction against the sales.
The Clean Air Act allows citizens to sue for up to $100,000 against a violator of the law. The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment in 2017 sued Sparks, his companies and two other “Diesel Brothers.”
Reed Zars, representing the doctors’ group, asked Sparks about the marketing goals of videos produced by his companies that emphasized the loud, smoke-spewing power of modified diesel trucks.
Zars played two of those videos for the court.
In one YouTube video, a diesel pickup modified by the Sparks companies roars past a man wearing an Earth Day T-shirt and driving a gas-and-electric hybrid Toyota Prius.
“What do you do when you see a dorky Prius driver? Watch the #BuiltDiesel smoke out a Prius,” the description reads.
A cloud of black diesel exhaust envelops the driver and the video shows him choking and coughing, face covered with soot.
“It’s not the way that I would do it,” Sparks said. “I hate that video. I always have.”
He said the video was “created by an employee I fired after I saw that video.”
As of Monday afternoon the video remained available under the YouTube account of DieselSellerz, one of the Sparks company brands. It has registered more than 780,000 views.
Zars also had Sparks read passages from “The Diesel Brothers: A Truckin’ Awesome Guide to Trucks and Life,” which Sparks said he’d had ghostwritten for him.
In the book, Sparks described the success of truck sweepstakes his companies began in 2013.
Many of the trucks given away in the sweepstakes between 2013 and 2016 had emission defeat devices installed, according to court records.
Apparel and truck accessory sales ballooned at the Diesel Power Gear online store with the first sweepstakes, Sparks said in the book. He said the sweepstakes generated about $350,000 in retail sales and a profit of $50,000 or more.
However, “By no means is that a form of accounting that I recognize,” Sparks said in court.
He said in reality he does not know how much profit the sweepstakes and the companies’ online video ads have generated, although some of the sweepstakes installments may have lost money.
Sparks, who briefly was charged with contempt of court for not appearing to testify when the trial began in early November, was asked for particulars about the trade show he attended instead.
The Diesel Brothers stars are celebrities at the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association annual event in Las Vegas. Sparks said he had to make celebrity appearances, meet with Discovery network people and talk to other partners.
“It’s something we are not able to miss,” Sparks said. “It’s a big, big deal for us.”
Under Zars’ questioning, Sparks said he made about $12,000 for his participation in the trade show.
In pretrial documents, both sides presented arguments for Shelby’s consideration about environmental damage caused by the illegally modified trucks and the level of penalties that should be levied.
The defendants acknowledged in those papers having sold or given away 17 illegally modified trucks, but they said the trucks were driven only small numbers of miles before being delivered to sweepstakes winners in other states.
They also said the defendants still own three of the illegally modified trucks but mostly use them only as exhibition pieces.
For example, the “Bro-Dozer” truck is a “novelty item, a show or concept vehicle,” Sparks said.
“It does us just as much or more good parked on display,” he said.
Sparks’ lawyers also challenged the doctors’ claims of pollution damage caused by the 17 trucks.
They presented government environmental data showing that most harmful pollutants in the Wasatch Front’s air come from road dust, the Kennecott copper mine, coal-fired power plants, stock passenger vehicles and “ozone and nitrogen oxides from Asia.”
Further, the defense contended, penalties “should not be based on social media marketing and video recordings, as well as the celebrity status of the individuals, but rather on the lack of evidence of the amount of actual pollutants actually discharged into the Wasatch Front as a result of the violations.”
Zars, though, said in plaintiff documents that the defeat devices sold by Sparks’ companies remain in circulation and that the full $100,000 penalty authorized by law is justified.
And diesel smoke is no insignificant matter, he said. He quoted a 2013 study by the University of Utah and Davis County that said density of smoke from diesel vehicles is directly correlated to a significant increase in damaging fine particulate matter, which contributes to an array of illnesses.
“For diesel vehicles that failed the Davis County opacity test, for example, the emission of particulate matter ... was 100 times that of the diesel vehicles that passed the test,” he said.
It is not known when Shelby will rule on the penalties.