Families object to Justice Department’s “Sweetheart Deal” with Boeing

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The Justice Department announced in a court filing that Boeing will plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud the FAA about the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft late Sunday (July 7, 2024).  The Justice Department announced the agreement in a filing with federal district court Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas.

Families who lost loved ones in two Boeing 737 MAX crashes quickly filed in that same court an objection to the deal. The families’ notice indicated that “the plea deal with Boeing unfairly makes concessions to Boeing that other criminal defendants would never receive and fails to hold Boeing accountable for the deaths of 346 persons. … As a result, the generous plea agreement rests on deceptive and offensive premises,” according to the objection filed in federal district court in Texas after the DOJ filed Boeing’s plea with the court.

The issue of whether to accept the plea agreement and Boeing’s guilty plea now rests with Judge O’Connor who is overseeing the criminal matter. Families from around the world are intending to travel to an anticipated court hearing to argue against the deal.

“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,” said Paul Cassell, attorney for the families in this case and professor of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. “A judge can reject a plea deal that is not in the public interest, and this deceptive and unfair deal is clearly not in the public interest. We plan to ask Judge O’Connor to use his recognized authority to reject this inappropriate plea and simply set the matter for a public trial, so that all the facts surrounding the case will be aired in a fair and open forum before a jury.”

“The families are highly disappointed that the DOJ fails to account for the two crashes,” said Robert A. Clifford, founder and senior partner at Clifford Law Offices and Lead Counsel for the families in the civil litigation pending in federal district court in Chicago. “Much more evidence has been presented over the last five years that demonstrates that the culture of Boeing putting profits over safety hasn’t changed. This plea agreement only furthers that skewed corporate objective. The families will continue to fight for justice and safety for the flying public in the names of their deceased loved ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

The DOJ initially informed the families that it would not seek prosecution against Boeing and explained the terms of the plea agreement on a last-minute two-hour video conference last Sunday (June 30, 2024).

Reaction to the Justice Department offering what families and their lawyers term a “sweetheart deal” was swift with some referring to the DOJ’s Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) entered into nearly four years ago. In May, the DOJ decided to discard the DPA after it found Boeing hadn’t complied with its terms following a door plug flying off of an Alaska Airlines jet in mid-flight in January.

“The DoJ has decided that repeating the same mistakes made when they negotiated their illegal DPA three years ago will now yield a different result.  The penalties and conditions imposed on Boeing as a result of this plea deal are not substantively different than those that failed to change Boeing’s safety culture and that resulted in the Alaska Air door blowout,” said Javier de Luis who lost his sister Graziella in the second crash five years ago. He is an aerospace engineer. “This agreement ignores Judge O’Connor’s finding that Boeing’s fraud was directly responsible for the deaths of 346 people.  It ignores the Fifth Circuit’s observation that an agreement such as this fundamentally needs to serve the manifest public interest of improving aviation safety.  When the next crash happens, every DoJ official that signed off on this deal will be as responsible as the Boeing executives that refuse to put safety ahead of profits.”

Zipporah Kuria of England who lost her father, Joseph, said, “Miscarriage of justice is a gross understatement in describing this.  It is an atrocious abomination. I hope that, God forbid, if this happens again the DOJ is reminded that it had the opportunity to do something meaningful and instead chose not to. We will not stop our fight for justice, whatever that looks like moving forward. For a company that keeps singing that they have changed their tune to take the easy way out again, isn’t reflective of that. It’s a stark reality that this sets a precedent for morally bankrupt companies like Boeing can prosper at the cost of human life without real reprimand and that justice is for those who can afford to wriggle out of accountability. Shame on the DOJ.”

Chris and Clariss Moore of Canada lost their daughter Danielle, 24, in the crash.  He said: “The Department of Justice should have initially conducted a full investigation and a criminal trial against Boeing staff who spearheaded the fraudulent certification of the Boeing Max plane. The deadliest corporate crime in the United States history but the most lenient sanction for corporate manslaughter of this magnitude requires a detailed explanation of what happened; the facts must be made public, and the individuals must be held to account.  Just as Boeing didn’t take corrective actions after the first crash, the Department of Justice, too, has not taken corrective action after yet another accident caused by Boeing (Alaska Air). The plea deal is a carbon copy of the DPA and without true accountability more accidents will happen. These soft actions taken by the Department of Justice once again shows favouritism to those who are wealthy and powerful in the United States.”

Ike Riffel of California who lost his two sons, Melvin and Bennett, in the crash said: “Again the Department of Justice leaves the families of 346 people killed by Boeing’s reckless and negligent behavior in the dark. Without full transparency and accountability nothing will change. I would hope that we could learn from these terrible tragedies. But instead, the DOJ hands Boeing another sweetheart deal.  With this deal, there will be no investigation, there will be no expert witness testimony, there will be no perpetrators of these crimes to answer the charges in court. Without a full public investigation and public trial, the families and flying public will never know the truth. We would hope that the death of our loved ones would have brought about real change in the way Boeing does business and begin to put safety over profit again — the formula that made them the great company they used to be. The first corporate probation did nothing to change Boeing behavior, what makes the DOJ think that another one will make any difference? It makes you ask the question, is justice really blind?
Paul Njoroge of Canada who lost his entire family, Carol, his wife, and his son and daughters, 6-year-old Ryan, 4-year-old Kelli and 9-month-old Rubi, and his wife’s mom, said, “It was obviously a no-brainer that Boeing was going to accept the plea agreement. It is a deal that allows Boeing to go unscathed. The truth is that the Department of Justice re-wrote the Deferred Prosecution Agreement of January 2021. Obnoxiously, this plea agreement does not factor that 346 lives were lost because of the negligence of Boeing’s senior management. When this deal goes before Judge O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas, I will request him to disallow it.”

Judge O’Connor ruled earlier that the 346 family members who lost loved ones in two new Boeing 737 MAX8 crashes within five months were crime victims in this case under the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act.

The terms of the deal appear to mean that no individual executives at Boeing will be charged with a crime, even though families and their attorneys have sent evidence of Boeing’s then high-level executives being culpable in the conspiracy. Boeing will pay a fine of $487 million with a $234 million credit given for monies previously paid, an amount that is much smaller than the potential $24.7 billion fine that Boeing could have faced.

The DOJ plea agreement also includes an independent corporate monitor for three years at Boeing facilities to be selected by the government. The families asked to be involved in the selection process with Judge O’Connor to have the final say in the selection of the monitor.




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