Federal prosecutors recommended a three-year sentence and a $20,000 fine, but Judge Sean F. Cox of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan gave Mr. Liang a longer sentence, as well as two years of supervised release and a $200,000 fine.
The judge said Mr. Liang and other Volkswagen executives and employees were responsible for a “massive and stunning fraud” that violated the trust that consumers need to have in goods and services purchased from corporations.
“This is a very serious and troubling crime against our economic system,” he said. “Without that trust in corporate America, the economy can’t function.”
Mr. Liang, a 63-year-old German citizen, declined to address the judge at the sentencing. His lawyer, Daniel Nixon, portrayed the longtime engineer as remorseful for the crimes that made him the “worldwide face” of the emissions scandal.
“He was not the mastermind, but he did play a role,” Mr. Nixon said, adding that Mr. Liang never benefited financially from aiding in the development of so-called defeat devices that masked the high levels of harmful diesel emissions.
But the judge said Mr. Liang was “too loyal” to the German automaker he had worked for since the 1980s, and unwilling to expose its deceptive practices or walk away from his $350,000-a-year job.
Although his cooperation with investigators has helped the government’s cases against the company and other Volkswagen executives, the judge said it was not enough to allow Mr. Liang to be sentenced to home confinement, as his lawyer had requested.
“Your cooperation and regret is noted, but it doesn’t excuse the conduct,” the judge said.
Volkswagen has already pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to violate the Clean Air Act, as well as customs violations and obstruction of justice.
The company agreed to pay $4.3 billion in civil and criminal penalties in the case brought by the Justice Department. The penalties were part of $22 billion in settlements and fines that Volkswagen is paying in connection with the cheating scandal.
Six other Volkswagen executives have been indicted in the case, as well as one employee of the automaker’s Audi luxury division.
One of the executives, Oliver Schmidt, has also reached a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Mr. Schmidt, the former head of Volkswagen’s environmental and engineering center in Michigan, has been held without bail in prison since his arrest in January. Earlier this month, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the federal government and violating the Clean Air Act.
Mr. Schmidt, who is to be sentenced in December, faces up to seven years in prison.