OGDEN — The operator of a South Ogden automotive garage pleaded guilty to three felony counts for processing documents falsely indicating that as many as 250 or so cars passed state emissions tests, according to court papers.
It’s the first time criminal charges have been filed in such a case in Utah, particularly noteworthy in light of environmental officials’ efforts to combat air pollution along the Wasatch Front.
“But it’s not the last,” said Scott Braeden, environmental health program manager at the Weber-Morgan Health Department. Efforts continue, he said, to track down other mechanics engaged in such activity.
The probable cause affidavit in the matter states that William Lastre-Moreno, operator of 40th Street Auto at 749 40th St. in South Ogden, used duplicate emissions certificate numbers to register more than 200 cars. Every auto needing an emissions test is to get a unique certificate number indicating it complies with state emissions rules, a requirement before registering an auto and meant to keep the dirtiest vehicles off Utah roads. Lastre-Moreno, however, would use certificate numbers of passing autos on cars that hadn’t passed emissions testing or weren’t even tested and then file paperwork with the state to improperly register the cars.
Another 50 or so cars that were the subject of failed or aborted emissions tests carried out by Lastre-Moreno were also subsequently registered with the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles with invalid or duplicate emissions certificates, the affidavit states.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials took part in the investigation leading to Lastre-Moreno’s arrest, according to Weber County health officials. The Weber County Attorney’s Office filed 12 charges against the man in the case last June in 2nd District Court in Ogden, 11 felonies and a misdemeanor. As part of a plea deal, he pleaded guilty to three third-degree felony charges on Nov. 20 — a count of violating the Utah Air Conservation Act and two counts of forgery. He’s to be sentenced on Jan. 15, according to court papers.
“This sends a very clear message to others. We hope to discourage similar activity,” Christopher Crockett, a deputy Weber County attorney, told members of the Weber-Morgan Board of Health last week when informing them of the news.
Lastre-Moreno’s attorney didn’t respond to queries from The Standard-Examiner seeking comment.
FAKE CERTIFICATES FOR $25-$200
Owners of autos in Weber, Cache, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties are required to periodically test their cars’ emissions systems as part of the vehicle registration process to make sure the vehicles aren’t emitting excessive amounts of pollution. Weber County doesn’t meet EPA guidelines for healthy air, and emissions testing here, as in the four other Utah counties, is meant to help fight pollution.
As part of the process, mechanics authorized by the state handle the emissions inspections, issuing certificates to the owners of passing autos so they can be registered and tagged and legally operate on streets and roads in the state. As described by Braeden, though, customers going to Lastre-Moreno’s shop would pay $25 to $200 for certificates falsely indicating they passed inspections. The affidavit indicates the activity went on at least from Dec. 7, 2016, through Oct. 4, 2017.
Braeden said health officials revoked Lastre-Morenos’ permit to handle inspections, an administrative decision, after the activity came to light. They learned of it after Weber State University researchers compiled all the compliance certificate numbers for emissions inspections conducted in the five Utah counties where required into a single database, according to Braeden. Duplicate numbers popped up and the investigators traced many to 40th Street Auto.
The lot where Lastre-Moreno’s shop is located was filled with cars last week, though no one was in the office. Utah state records show the business’ license to operate had expired as of Jan 30, 2018, due to failure to file a renewal.