Boeing Could Face Criminal Prosecution Over 737 MAX Crashes: Justice Department

The Justice Department will decide by July 7 whether it will prosecute Boeing after the company violated a 2021 settlement with the U.S. government.
Boeing Could Face Criminal Prosecution Over 737 MAX Crashes: Justice Department
The logo for Boeing on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York City on July 13, 2021. (Richard Drew/AP)
Jacob Burg

The U.S. Department of Justice determined on May 14 that Boeing violated a deferred prosecution agreement that allowed the aerospace company to evade criminal charges after two crashes of its 737 MAX jet that killed everyone on board.

Justice Department prosecutors delivered the news to a federal judge on May 14 after hosting an April 24 closed-door meeting with the families of the victims of the 2018 and 2019 crashes. The agency now has until July 7 to decide whether it will file criminal charges against Boeing, during which time it will tell the court how it plans to proceed, according to the Justice Department.

Glenn Leon, head of the Justice Department’s fraud section, said in a letter that the aerospace company failed to implement measures to prevent it from running afoul of federal anti-fraud laws, which is a violation of its 2021 deferred prosecution agreement.

The Justice Department said it could prosecute the company “for any federal criminal violation of which the United States has knowledge,” including a fraud charge that Boeing hoped to sidestep with its $2.5 billion settlement with the U.S. government.

The 2018 and 2019 737 MAX crashes involved a new flight-control system that Boeing added to the jet without notifying airlines or their pilots, according to investigations. The aerospace company then discounted the system’s importance and failed to overhaul its application until after the second crash caused further casualties.

The Justice Department then investigated Boeing before settling the case with a deferred prosecution agreement on Jan. 7, 2021. The department agreed not to prosecute for the charge of defrauding the government in misleading the regulators who approved the 737 MAX after closed-door negotiations with Boeing.

Instead, Boeing paid a total of $2.5 billion in settlement fees. That included nearly $1.8 billion to airlines whose 737 MAX jets were grounded, a $500 million fund for compensating victims, and a $243.6 million fine to the U.S. government.

“The tragic crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 exposed fraudulent and deceptive conduct by employees of one of the world’s leading commercial airplane manufacturers,” Acting Assistant Attorney General David P. Burns of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in 2021.

“Boeing’s employees chose the path of profit over candor by concealing material information from the FAA concerning the operation of its 737 Max airplane and engaging in an effort to cover up their deception.”

U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox, for the Northern District of Texas, was also featured in the Justice Department’s 2021 statement on the Boeing agreement.

“The misleading statements, half-truths, and omissions communicated by Boeing employees to the FAA impeded the government’s ability to ensure the safety of the flying public,” she said.

The agreement between Boeing and the U.S. government was set to expire on Jan. 7, two days after a mid-air blowout of a door panel on an Alaskan Airlines flight, also featuring a 737 MAX. That incident triggered the Justice Department’s 2024 investigation into whether Boeing violated the 2021 settlement.

As a result of the various crashes and incidents, Boeing has faced multiple civil lawsuits, congressional investigations, and increased public scrutiny of its business practices.

Paul Cassell, the attorney representing the 737 MAX crash victims’ families, said in late April that he was worried the Justice Department was giving Boeing “preferential treatment” after the April 24 closed-door meeting with the agency yielded no decisive updates on its investigation.

“We don’t understand how it could possibly be in the public interest to dismiss the charges and avoid a trial that could shed light on so many of the safety issues that continue to surface regarding the 737 Max that’s made by Boeing,” he told The Epoch Times.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 
Jacob Burg reports on the state of Florida for The Epoch Times. He covers a variety of topics including crime, politics, science, education, wildlife, family issues, and features. He previously wrote about sports, politics, and breaking news for the Sarasota Herald Tribune.