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U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor denied a bid by the families of victims who died in two Boeing 737 Max plane crashes to nullify a deal U.S. prosecutors and Boeing negotiated to resolve charges that the company defrauded the federal government about the extent of changes to the new plane, which investigators say led to the crashes.
In January 2021, the same day the criminal charge against the company was announced, federal prosecutors entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the company. It requires Boeing to pay nearly $250 million in fines and set up a $500 million fund for the relatives of crash victims, as well as participate in compliance meetings with the government for three years. If Boeing complies with the agreement, the government will dismiss the charge and the company will be immune from criminal prosecution.
The families of crash victims called the agreement a “sweetheart deal” and say that it was made behind closed doors and without their involvement. In an emotional arraignment last month in O'Connor's Fort Worth court room, families described the agony of losing their loved ones in crashes they later learned could have been avoided by proper training for pilots for the new plane.
The design changes were minimized in order to avoid the expense of such training, investigators found, which resulted in pilots being unaware of a new flight control feature that could kick in automatically during takeoff, which is what happened on the two crashes in 2018 and 2019 in Indonesia and Ethiopia. “For a few dollars more, Boeing committed the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history,” Paul Cassell, the lawyer for the families, told the judge last month.
In the ruling, O’Connor said the facts didn’t support the argument that Boeing was a continued threat to public safety and that he doesn’t have the authority to supervise the agreement between Boeing and federal prosecutors. O’Connor found that “it is true the Government violated the crime victims’ rights” under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, but that the government acted in “good faith” and that it is under no requirement to “disclose certain information” to the families.
Cassell, the families’ lawyer, says they will appeal the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Boeing and DOJ [Department of Justice] crafted an illegal and secret plea deal without any chance for the families to confer about it, which is required by the Crime Victims Rights Act,” Cassell said in a statement. “We are optimistic our appeal will vindicate the families’ rights in this case and ensure that never again are deals like this one reached secretly and without victim involvement.”
Disclosure: Boeing Co. has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.