Families of those who died in Boeing crashes press DOJ for prosecution

Jun 1, 2024, 9:27 AM

Image: A Boeing ecoDemonstrator Explorer, a 787-10 Dreamliner, sits on the tarmac at their campus i...

A Boeing ecoDemonstrator Explorer, a 787-10 Dreamliner, sits on the tarmac at their campus in North Charleston, South Carolina, on May 30, 2023. (Pool file photo: Gavin McIntyre, The Post And Courier via AP)

(Pool file photo: Gavin McIntyre, The Post And Courier via AP)

Relatives of passengers who died in two jetliner crashes pushed federal officials Friday to prosecute Boeing on criminal charges related to the accidents no later than this fall but said they got no commitment from the Justice Department.

The Justice Department (DOJ) determined two weeks ago that Boeing violated terms of a settlement that let the company avoid prosecution for deceiving regulators who approved the Boeing 737 Max. Prosecutors have said they will announce by July 7 whether the company will face sanctions.

DOJ determination: Boeing violated deal that avoided prosecution after crashes

“On July 7, we should know what their next step is going to be, whether it’s going to be new charges, a new plea agreement, or an extension of the existing,” Washington-based attorney Mark Lindquist said to KIRO Newsradio during an interview Friday.

Boeing agreed in 2021 to pay $2.5 billion — mostly compensation to airlines — to avoid prosecution on a fraud charge. Relatives of some of the 346 people who died in the 2018 and 2019 crashes have tried ever since to scuttle the settlement.

Lindquist represents dozens of those families. He told KIRO Newsradio that while the victims’ families are pleased the DOJ has determined Boeing violated the settlement he said they’re still frustrated for a couple of reasons.

“Though the families are pleased with the DOJ determination that Boeing violated the deferred prosecution agreement, there was still a lot of frustration in the room,” Lindquist said. “No. 1, families are frustrated because it sounds like (the) DOJ is not going to bring charges against any of the individual Boeing executives and No. 2, there was a general sense from the victims’ families that (the) DOJ is not prosecuting this case as vigorously as they could.”

Criminal case would focus on ‘reforming the defendant’

If does appear, however, that the DOJ will not be going after individual executives and specific people won’t be facing prison time. So, the question of how Boeing will be held accountable or liable for what has transpired in recent years if a criminal prosecution does move forward.

“A judge cannot send a corporation to prison, of course,” Lindquist said to KIRO Newsradio. “A judge can impose fines on a corporation, can impose restitution on the corporation, can impose probation on a corporation and that probation can include a lot of conditions with teeth.

Lindquist went on to add how civil and criminal cases differ in these situations.

“Civil cases are focused on justice for the victims,” he added. “Well, a criminal prosecution like this is focused on reforming the defendant.”

It appeared that the fraud case would be dismissed permanently. But in January, a door plug blew off a Max during an Alaska Airlines flight, leading to new investigations of Boeing.

“They claimed the Max is completely safe, it’s the most-scrutinized plane ever, even as the doors blow off on the Alaska Air (Max), and they can’t blame the pilots anymore,” said Michael Stumo, whose daughter, Samya, died in the second crash.

The DOJ declined to comment Friday but has said that Boeing violated terms of the 2021 settlement by failing to make promised changes to detect and prevent violations of federal anti-fraud laws.

‘Boeing doesn’t have a healthy safety culture’: Engineers allege retaliation over concerns expressed

Prosecutors have not publicly disclosed instances of potential fraud. In early May, Boeing disclosed that workers at a South Carolina plant falsified inspection reports on some 787 Dreamliner jets.

“We believe that we have honored the terms of the agreement, and look forward to the opportunity to respond to the Justice Department on this issue,” a Boeing spokesperson said, according to The Associated Press. They added that the company is acting “with the utmost transparency” to answer the department’s questions, including those surrounding the Alaska Airlines incident.

Boeing’s submitted plan to the FAA after crashes

Boeing officials explained their plan to improve manufacturing quality and safety during a three-hour meeting Thursday with federal officials, who will continue restrictions they placed on the company after one of its jetliners suffered a blowout of a fuselage panel in January.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Mike Whitaker said the plan is comprehensive and includes encouraging Boeing employees to speak up about safety concerns.

“This is a guide for a new way for Boeing to do business,” Whitaker told reporters after the meeting. “Boeing has laid out their road map, and now they need to execute.”

Boeing released an 11-page summary of its “Product Safety and Quality Plan,” which described steps the company is taking, including increased inspections and tighter controls over suppliers. It also says how Boeing will measure its improvement.

Lindquist told KIRO Newsradio the victims’ families and the DOJ appear to agree that Boeing has failed to monitor itself. So, a separate party could be brought in.

“One of the things that (the) DOJ and the families seem to agree on is that Boeing has utterly failed as its own watchdog,” Lindquist said to KIRO Newsradio. “(The) DOJ did bring up the possibility of a federally appointed monitor for Boeing as a condition of a future prosecution or a future plea agreement.”

More Boeing coverage: Police conclude investigation into suicide of whistleblower

Lindquist added that a federally-appointed monitor would be neutral in the sense that they wouldn’t be connected to either side, and their responsibility would be to report to the court.

He also delivered a blunt message about what the victims’ families think of Boeing and what has unfolded to this point.

“The victim families have little or no faith in anything Boeing says. This has been going on for five years and the problems that Boeing have continued,” Lindquist said to KIRO Newsradio. “Most of us thought that after 346 people died and Boeing was federally prosecuted, they would get their act together. They have not. As a result, the victim families have little or no faith in what Boeing says.”

Contributing: Heather Bosch, KIRO Newsradio; The Associated Press; Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of her stories here. Follow Heather on X, or email her here.

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Families of those who died in Boeing crashes press DOJ for prosecution