Justice Department: Boeing violated deal that avoided prosecution after crashes

May 14, 2024, 4:42 PM | Updated: 5:10 pm

Image: Safety cards in seat backs are seen on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft awaiting...

Safety cards in seat backs are seen on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft awaiting inspection at the airline's hangar at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Jan. 10, 2024. (File photo: Lindsey Wasson, AP)

(File photo: Lindsey Wasson, AP)

The Justice Department (DOJ) has determined that Boeing violated a settlement that allowed the company to avoid criminal prosecution after two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max aircraft, prosecutors told a federal judge on Tuesday.

It is now up to the DOJ to weigh whether to file charges against the aircraft maker. Prosecutors will tell the court no later than July 7 how they plan to proceed, the DOJ said.

Boeing failed to make changes to prevent it from violating federal anti-fraud laws — a condition of the the 2021 settlement, Glenn Leon, the head of the fraud section of the Justice Department’s criminal division said in a letter.

The determination means that Boeing could be prosecuted “for any federal criminal violation of which the United States has knowledge,” including the charge of fraud that the company hoped to avoid with the $2.5 billion settlement, the DOJ said.

Attorney Mark Lindquist represents dozens of families of the 346 people who died in two Max 8 crashes, one in 2018 and 2019. He also previously said to KIRO Newsradio old and new evidence could presented in a new prosecution.

“Then this will be a fresh, full-blown prosecution with all the old evidence from the Max 8 crashes and, likely, new evidence from incidents such as the Max 9 door plug blowout.”

However, it is not clear whether the government will prosecute the manufacturing giant.

“The Government is determining how it will proceed in this matter,” the Justice Department said in the court filing.

Whistleblower: Boeing production a ‘disaster waiting to happen’

Investigations into the 2018 and 2019 crashes pointed to a flight-control system that Boeing added to the Max without telling pilots or airlines. Boeing downplayed the significance of the system, then didn’t overhaul it until after the second crash.

The DOJ investigated Boeing and settled the case in January 2021. After secret negotiations, the government agreed not to prosecute Boeing on a charge of defrauding the United States by deceiving regulators who approved the plane.

In exchange, the company paid $2.5 billion — a $243.6 million fine, a $500 million fund for victim compensation, and nearly $1.8 billion to airlines whose Max jets were grounded.

Boeing has faced civil lawsuits, congressional investigations and massive damage to its business since the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Many of the families of the Max 8 victims have pursued their cases in civil court. But Lindquist says the families also would like Boeing to be tried in criminal court.

“Right now, a lot of victims’ families feel like there has not yet been justice or full accountability or the necessary changes at Boeing, Lindquist said to KIRO Newsradio. “Victims’ families not only want justice and accountability, they want these problems fixed so they don’t happen again.”

Contributing: The Associated Press; Heather Bosch, KIRO Newsradio

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Justice Department: Boeing violated deal that avoided prosecution after crashes