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Boeing, DOJ reach tentative criminal plea deal following deadly airliner crashes

A Boeing 737 MAX 7 takes off at Renton in 2018. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times/TNS)
July 09, 2024

Boeing has reached a tentative deal to plead guilty to a single criminal charge of defrauding the U.S. government, in connection with a deadly airliner crash in 2018 and again in 2019.

Prosecutors submitted the proposed plea deal to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on Sunday. A judge must now decide whether or not to approve the plea agreement.

The deal could conclude Boeing’s legal liability over the pair of 737 MAX aircraft crashes in which 346 passengers and crew members died.

The Department of Justice first charged Boeing with defrauding the government in a Jan. 7, 2021 court filing. That same day the Justice Department and Boeing entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in which the aerospace company agreed to implement new safety measures over three years. Boeing also agreed to pay a $243.6 million criminal monetary penalty, $1.7 billion in compensation to their customers, and another $500 million to the families of the deceased crash victims.

Boeing nearly completed the three-year deferred prosecution period when on Jan. 5, 2024, a door panel detached from a Boeing aircraft operated by Alaska Airlines after takeoff. While that aircraft managed to land safely with three passengers sustaining minor injuries, the incident put Boeing in breach of the deferred prosecution agreement and revived its legal liability.

The plea deal now on the table would see Boeing accept the single fraud count, pay another $243.6 million criminal monetary penalty. The aerospace company would also undergo another probationary period and invest at least $455 million more in its safety compliance program.

The plea deal leaves it up to the court to decide whether Boeing should pay any additional restitution, and how much.

The deal would not immunize Boeing from liability for any other safety incidents involving its aircraft, such as the Alaska Airlines incident earlier this year.

The deadly 2018 and 2019 crashes occurred on Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

A special term of the plea agreement would have Boeing meet with the families of the deceased airline passengers and crew. Still, some of the families feel the plea agreement is overly lenient to the aerospace company.

“This sweetheart deal fails to recognize that because of Boeing’s conspiracy, 346 people died. Through crafty lawyering between Boeing and DOJ, the deadly consequences of Boeing’s crime are being hidden,” Paul Cassell, an attorney representing some of the families, said in a Monday press statement shared with the Associated Press.

A group of victim families filed a notice with the federal court on Monday, asserting rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA) to request that a judge rejects the proposed plea agreement.

Those weighing Boeing’s legal liability will also have to consider the impact a court judgment will have on one of the largest actors in the U.S. aerospace and defense industry.

At a June 18 Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs committee hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said, “Boeing needs to succeed for the sake of the jobs it provides, for the sake of local economies it supports, for the sake of the American traveling public, for the sake of our military.” Still, Blumenthal said it’s not okay for Boeing to “shrug it shoulders and say ‘well mistakes happen.’” The Democrat senator said regardless of the forthcoming legal decisions against the company, now is a “moment of reckoning” for Boeing and an opportunity for it to end its “broken safety culture.”

Boeing’s military division supports the V-22 Osprey program, which has come under scrutiny for a slew of deadly crashes in recent years. Boeing’s military division is also partnered with the U.S. Air Force’s T7-A Red Hawk, which has seen development delays due to concerns about parts defects and its ejection system.

Boeing and NASA are also currently troubleshooting issues with Boeing’s Starliner capsule, which manifested during the capsule’s mission to dock with the International Space Stationed with a manned flight crew. NASA and Boeing have repeatedly pushed back their estimated timeline for the capsule’s return to Earth, as they assess a series of leaks on the capsule’s helium-based propulsion system.

This article was originally published by FreeBase News and is reprinted with permission.