2 Ozarks business owners plead guilty to illegally tampering with emissions controls

Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 8:39 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 14, 2023 at 4:46 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (Edited News Release/KY3) - The owner of a Kirbyville, Mo., towing company, and the owner of a Springfield, Mo., business have pleaded guilty in federal court to their roles in a conspiracy to illegally tamper with the emissions controls of the company’s diesel towing vehicles.

Dennis Cleveland, 73, of Kirbyville, waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge David P. Rush on Thursday, March 9, to a federal information that charges him with one count of conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act and one count of tampering with a Clean Air Act monitoring device.

Robert Dyche, 67, of Springfield, waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty on Monday, March 13, to a federal information that charges him with one count of conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act.

Cleveland says the investigation started after helping someone went wrong.

“We have Bible studies and feed the homeless people on a regular basis at our car lot on Glenstone and commercial,” said Cleveland. “And a guy that we had helped didn’t have a trailer, didn’t have some stuff and we helped him and let him borrow some stuff and gave him some work. When we stopped giving him work, he decided that he should turn us into anybody he could think of.”

Cleveland is the owner of Affordable Towing, a roadside, recovery, hauling, and mobile repair provider for commercial and private automobiles and vehicles throughout southwest Missouri. Affordable Towing utilized heavy-duty, commercial diesel trucks to tow and haul away vehicles to repair facilities.

By pleading guilty, Cleveland admitted that, since 2011, he had directed his employees to physically disable emissions control components on multiple heavy-duty diesel tow trucks.

“They could have just called me. I would have told them because I didn’t think it was a big deal,” said Cleveland.

Cleveland conspired with Dyche, the owner, and operator of Full Flash Tuning, which specializes in illegally tampering with the onboard diagnostic systems on these vehicles. Cleveland caused the Affordable Towing trucks to be tampered with to save money by avoiding maintenance expenses on emissions control systems and spending less on fuel.

“Every 200,000 miles, you got to completely redo the exhaust system again,” said Cleveland. “And the process of that is bankrupting the whole trucking industry.”

This tampering is frequently called “tuning” or “flashing” an onboard diagnostic system. One purpose for “tuning” is to allow the vehicles to continue to seemingly operate normally while the emissions control system is disabled, rather than forcing the vehicle’s engine into a state known as “limp mode,” which greatly limits the maximum speed of the vehicle, incentivizing the driver or owner to repair the malfunction. The use of “tuning” thereby serves to reduce the high costs associated with maintaining or repairing components of the emissions control systems on heavy-duty diesel trucks.

As a consequence of “tuning,” tampered vehicles spew substantially more deleterious pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (Nox), carbon monoxide (CO), non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC), and particulate matter (PM) into the air, presenting a risk to the environment and public health.

Cleveland, through Affordable Towing, contracted with Dyche on multiple occasions to “tune” or “flash” the emissions control systems of Affordable Towing vehicles, thereby causing multiple fleet vehicles to be altered in such a way that the vehicles released pollutants into the air that far exceeded the legally allowable amounts under the Clean Air Act. Each diesel truck would continue to operate normally as if the vehicle were operating in accordance with existing Clean Air Act restrictions rather than go into limp mode.

In addition to personally tuning Affordable Towing vehicles, Dyche, on multiple occasions, would take the vehicles to an unidentified entity in Rogersville, Mo., to “tune” the vehicles, for which he was compensated by Affordable Towing.

Under federal statutes, Cleveland is subject to a sentence of up to seven years in federal prison without parole Dyche is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Carney. They were investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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