Boeing Accepts Plea Deal Stemming from 737 Max Crashes

Boeing has agreed to plead guilty to a criminal fraud charge related to the two 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people.

The Justice Department announced this decision late Sunday night, confirming that the aerospace giant had violated a 2021 agreement that protected it from prosecution.

Federal prosecutors offered Boeing a choice: plead guilty and pay a fine or face trial on the felony charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Boeing chose to plead guilty and agreed to pay an additional $243.6 million fine.

An independent monitor will oversee Boeing’s safety and quality procedures for three years. The deal also mandates a $455 million investment in compliance and safety programs.

Under the plea deal, Boeing will be subject to three years of court-supervised probation, during which it could face additional penalties if it violates the terms. The deal also requires Boeing’s board of directors to meet with victims’ families, a request previously sought by the families’ counsel.

Scope of the Agreement

The plea deal covers only the wrongdoing related to the crashes, which killed all 346 passengers and crew on two 737 Max jets.

It does not provide immunity for other incidents, including a recent event where a panel blew off a Max jetliner during an Alaska Airlines flight. The deal also does not cover any current or former Boeing officials, only the corporation itself.

Federal prosecutors secured a guilty plea for the most serious charge they believed they could prove at trial. They determined they could not conclusively prove that the crime directly caused the crashes.

Boeing acknowledged the agreement in principle with the Justice Department. In a court filing, the Justice Department stated it expects to file the written plea agreement by July 19.

Court Actions and Reactions

Boeing’s guilty plea will be entered in U.S. District Court in Texas. The judge overseeing the case can either accept the plea and the proposed sentence or reject the agreement, potentially leading to new negotiations.

The Justice Department official mentioned that before extending any plea offer to Boeing, they held several meetings with victims’ families and incorporated their feedback into the proposed resolution.

Lawyers for some relatives of the crash victims plan to ask the judge to reject the agreement, calling it a “sweetheart deal.”

Details on the 737 Max Crashes

The crashes occurred in Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopia in March 2019. Federal prosecutors alleged that Boeing misled regulators about a flight-control system implicated in the crashes.

The Justice Department had charged Boeing with deceiving FAA regulators about the software and pilot training requirements.

Boeing paid a $2.5 billion settlement in 2021, including a $243.6 million fine, and agreed to comply with anti-fraud laws for three years.

Boeing’s Safety Record and Future

Following the crashes, Boeing grounded Max jets for 20 months and implemented software changes. The Justice Department recently opened a new investigation after an incident on an Alaska Airlines flight.

A criminal conviction could affect Boeing’s status as a federal contractor, but the plea agreement leaves it up to individual government agencies to decide whether to bar Boeing.

Despite the controversies, Boeing remains a significant defense contractor and continues to compete for contracts due to its critical role in national security.

Relatives of the crash victims have pushed for a criminal trial to uncover what Boeing insiders knew about the FAA deception and want top Boeing officials prosecuted. Boeing CEO David Calhoun recently apologized to the victims’ families and defended the company’s safety record.

With information from CBS News

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