Exclusive: Prosecutors' case against GM focuses on misleading statements

Mon Jul 14, 2014 1:05am EDT
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By Emily Flitter and Karen Freifeld

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors are developing a criminal fraud case hinged on whether General Motors made misleading statements about a deadly ignition switch flaw, and are examining activity dating back a decade, before GM's 2009 bankruptcy, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation.

At the same time, at least a dozen states are investigating the automaker. Two state officials said that effort is likely to focus on whether GM broke consumer protection laws.

Both federal and state investigations into the switch, which is linked to at least 13 deaths and 54 crashes, are at early stages, and it is possible that cases may not be brought.

Sources said federal criminal prosecutors are working on a set of mail and wire fraud charges, similar to the criminal case Toyota Motor Corp settled earlier this year over misleading statements it made to American consumers and regulators about two different problems that caused cars to accelerate even as drivers tried to slow down.

Delphi Automotive, the maker of the GM switch, is not a target of criminal charges, the people said, because it did not make substantial public statements about the safety of the vehicles or the part. That would make it difficult to build a case under the main federal fraud laws, the wire and mail fraud statutes.

Greg Martin, a spokesman for GM, said his company continued to work with investigators, declining to comment further, and a spokeswoman for Delphi said the company had been told it was not a target of investigations and was working cooperatively with all government officials. A spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is leading the criminal probe, declined to comment.

Prosecutors are not limiting their inquiries to events that occurred after GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, sources said. Legal experts said bankruptcy does not release GM from criminal liability in a fraud case.

It is not clear whether prosecutors will bring cases against any individuals.   Continued...

The General Motors logo is seen outside its headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan August 25, 2009.  REUTERS/Jeff Kowalsky/Files