DOJ to offer Boeing plea deal, victims' families 'strenuously object'

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) is preparing to offer Boeing a plea deal in the criminal case over two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max jetliners, according to a lawyer representing the families of the crash victims.

The potential deal includes a fine of about $244 million and three years of probation and oversight form an external monitor, Paul Cassell, a lawyer for 15 families of victims who were killed in 2018 and 2019 crashes involving Boeing’s 737 Max jetliners, told The Hill. The crashes killed 346 people in total.

The deal, which was discussed on a call with the families Sunday afternoon, would also feature a new investment in safety improvements and a meeting between Boeing’s board and the victims’ families, Cassell said.

Cassell said his team was told Boeing would be offered the deal immediately after Sunday’s call ended. Cassell ripped the DOJ offer as a “sweetheart deal.”

“The deal will not acknowledge, in any way, that Boeing’s crime killed 346 people. It also appears to rest on the idea that Boeing did not harm any victim,” Cassell wrote in a statement. “The families will strenuously object to this plea deal.”

“The memory of 346 innocents killed by Boeing demands more justice than this,” he added.

Boeing will have until the end of this week to accept or reject the offer, The Associated Press reported, citing several people involved with Sunday’s call with federal prosecutors.

The Justice Department and Boeing did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

The criminal case came after the department found Boeing violated a 2021 settlement related to the two fatal crashes. The agreement shielded the company from criminal liability for fraud in exchange for a promised overhaul of its compliance system and a $2.5 billion fine.

Reuters reported last week Justice Department prosecutors were recommending Boeing face criminal charges for violation of the settlement.

The possible plea deal comes about a week ahead of the July 7 deadline to determine whether to charge the aerospace giant.

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.

If the plea deal is reached, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor will no longer be able to increase Boeing’s sentence for a conviction or impose any additional punishment, Cassell added.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun was grilled by senators earlier this month over the settlement and other safety concerns during a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing last week. Calhoun apologized to the families of the crash victims.

“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 following day, a group of families released a letter to the DOJ, urging federal prosecutors to bring “aggressive criminal prosecution” against the plane-maker.

“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,” Cassell wrote on behalf of some victims’ families.

Boeing came under renewed scrutiny last January, when a door blew out of a 737 Max 9 aircraft while in the air.

The blowout caused a hole in the side of the aircraft, and pilots were forced to make an emergency landing back at Portland International Airport in Oregon. The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded all 737 Max 9 aircraft and conducted a probe into the manufacturer. It found issues with safety checks and manufacturing in Boeing’s build process, prompting increased pressure from regulators and Congress to address the problems.

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