Boeing should face criminal charges, prosecutors tell DOJ: Report

Justice Department prosecutors are recommending that Boeing face criminal charges, claiming it violated a settlement related to two fatal crashes, Reuters reported Sunday.

The department faces a July 7 deadline to determine whether to charge the airline giant.

The 2021 settlement agreement came after a pair of fatal crashes related to defects in the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, killing nearly 350 people in 2018 and 2019. The agreement shielded the company from criminal liability for fraud in exchange for a promised overhaul of its compliance system, in addition to a $2.5 billion fine.

The department found Boeing in violation of the agreement last month, which the company has contested. Boeing and the DOJ are in negotiations over next steps, and a final decision over charges has not been reached, according to Reuters.

Justice Department prosecutor Glenn Leon said in court last month that Boeing violated the agreement “by failing to design, implement, and enforce a compliance and ethics program to prevent and detect violations of the U.S. fraud laws throughout its operations.”

Boeing told The Hill in a statement last month that it believes it remains in compliance with the agreement.

“We believe that we have honored the terms of that agreement, and look forward to the opportunity to respond to the Department on this issue,” the company said.

Senators grilled Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun over the settlement and other safety concerns with the airline during a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing last week. In his testimony, Calhoun apologized to the families of those who died in the two crashes.

“I want to personally apologize, on behalf of everyone at Boeing. We are deeply sorry for your losses. Nothing is more important than the safety of the people who step on board our airplanes. Every day, we seek to honor the memory of those lost through a steadfast commitment to safety and quality,” Calhoun said.

The next day, a group of families of victims published a letter calling on the Department of Justice to bring “aggressive criminal prosecution” against Boeing.

“Because Boeing’s crime is the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history, a maximum fine of more than $24 billion is legally justified and clearly appropriate, although it might be partially suspended if funds that would otherwise be paid are devoted to appropriate quality control and safety measures,” attorney Paul Cassell wrote on behalf of some victims’ families.

Cassell also said the families “believe that the Department should launch criminal prosecutions of the responsible corporate officials at Boeing at the time of the two crashes, including in particular former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg.”

The looming question of prosecution adds to an ongoing crisis at Boeing over aircraft safety. The company has been reeling since January, when a door blew out of a 737 Max 9 aircraft mid-flight. Nobody was injured, but the incident grounded all similar planes and sparked a massive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigation.

The investigation found lax safety checks and manufacturing errors in Boeing’s build process, and the company has since faced pressure from regulators and Congress to address the issues.

“There are issues around the safety culture in Boeing. Their priorities have been focused on production and not on safety and quality,” FAA Administrator Michael Whittaker said in March. “And so, what we are really focused on now is shifting that focus from production to safety and quality.”

The FAA said its six-week audit of Boeing found “multiple instances when the companies allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements.”

The Hill has reached out to the DOJ for comment.

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