Feds, GM may strike recall deal in summer

David Shepardson and Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

The Justice Department is making significant progress in its more than year-long criminal investigation into General Motors Co.’s delayed recall of 2.6 million vehicles linked to at least 104 deaths and nearly 200 injuries — and a settlement could come as early as this summer.

The fast-moving probe led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan — aided by the FBI and a federal grand jury that has subpoenaed millions of pages of records — could end with the Detroit automaker by the end of the summer, three GM officials with knowledge of the investigation said.

GM officials think the fine could be higher than the $1.2 billion settlement Toyota Motor Corp. reached in 2014 for its sudden-acceleration case, but no one at the company knows precisely what the Justice Department will demand.

GM spokesman Pat Morrissey late Friday would not confirm a New York Times report that settlement talks are active or that the government has made any formal legal determinations. “We’re cooperating with the investigation,” he said. “We have no indication of timing.”

The probe has included interviews with dozens of high-ranking current and former GM executives, engineers and lawyers, along with many of the 15 fired by GM CEO Mary Barra last year after a scathing internal report blamed the delay of the recalls for a decade on a culture of “incompetence and neglect.”

GM has already admitted wrongdoing and paid a record-setting $35 million settlement to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in May 2014. NHTSA opted this month to extend its enhanced oversight by another year under the three-year agreement.

All 50 state attorneys general, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Transport Canada are also investigating.

Bob Hilliard, a Texas attorney who is representing many families and those injured in crashes linked to the ignition switch defect, said Friday he believes the Justice Department will find criminal wrongdoing on GM’s part. “It has seemed clear for some time that crimes were likely committed,” Hilliard said in a statement.

“I call on GM to finally and completely do the right thing and concede full responsibility for this tragedy.”