By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Monday sued automobile device manufacturer EZ Lynk for selling tens of thousands of "defeat devices" that enabled car and truck owners to disable their vehicles' computerized emission controls at the push of a button.
In a complaint filed in the federal court in Manhattan, the U.S. Department of Justice accused EZ Lynk of having since 2016 violated the federal Clean Air Act by selling its aftermarket EZ Lynk System for drivers of Ford , GMC and Chrysler trucks, among other vehicles.
The government said the system includes a device that plugs into vehicles' computers to install deletion software, a cloud platform that stores the software, and an app that lets drivers buy and install the software through their smartphones.
According to court papers, the Cayman Islands-based company "actively encourages" drivers to use EZ Lynk System, including through an online forum where drivers praise the product and some EZ Lynk representatives even offer technical support.
"Emissions controls on cars and trucks protect the public from harmful effects of air pollution," U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan said in a statement. "EZ Lynk has put the public’s health at risk by manufacturing and selling devices intended to disable those emissions controls."
Other defendants include EZ Lynk's co-founders Bradley Gintz and Thomas Wood, and an affiliate, Prestige Worldwide. Neither EZ Lynk nor a lawyer for the defendants immediately responded to requests for comment.
The lawsuit seeks civil penalties, including daily fines, for Clean Air Act violations, and an injunction against further EZ Lynk System sales and installations.
Drivers can sometimes obtain faster acceleration and better fuel economy by using defeat devices.
The U.S. government has stepped-up oversight of vehicle emissions after Volkswagen AG admitted in 2015 to intentionally evading emissions rules. The German automaker has since incurred more than $30 billion in penalties and costs.
The case is U.S. v EZ Lynk SEZC et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 21-01986.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)