Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

US Justice Department Tasked With Determining Whether or Not to Criminally Charge Boeing

Published: June 19, 2024
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun listens as Chief Engineer Hoard McKenzie testifies before a subcommittee of the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee on the company's safety culture, following a number of recent incidents on Boeing airplanes in Washington, DC on June 18, 2024. Families of the victims of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, a Boeing 737 Max 8 that crashed in 2019, attended the hearing and spoke to reporters earlier in the day. (Image: ALLISON BAILEY/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)

After an intense and at times emotionally charged Senate committee hearing on June 18, where Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun was grilled by lawmakers over the aerospace giant’s safety record, U.S. Justice Department prosecutors are now tasked with deciding whether or not to charge the company criminally for a series of incidents that claimed hundreds of lives and put others in mortal danger. 

Last month the Justice Department accused Boeing of violating a pre-existing corporate probation for a fraud conspiracy charge related to two mass casualty events in 2018 and 2019 involving the company’s planes, after a panel on another Boeing plane blew off mid flight. 

According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Glenn Leon, a Justice Department prosecutor, recently said, “We’re going to be very busy in the next several weeks trying to figure out what, if any, other crimes we might be able to charge [Boeing with].”

Should Boeing be branded as a felon it would create a whole new series of challenges for the struggling aerospace company, which would not only be under more scrutiny, but could also face additional financial penalties and obstructions to providing the U.S. government with defense weapons and space vehicles. 

Companies with felony convictions face being suspended or barred entirely from being a defense contractor. 

Robert Luskin, a partner at Paul Hastings, told the WSJ,  “Any action that leads to a felony conviction carries with it the risk of debarment, and that has grotesquely large risks for the government and for Boeing.”


Families seeking justice

Earlier in June, during a meeting with Leon, families of the victims of two Boeing 737 MAX plane crashes pleaded for Boeing to face additional consequences.

According to the WSJ, one family member said, “Don’t let them get away with that murder!” While another asked, “Do you want your kids, yourself, your grandkids to be killed on an airplane?”

Previously, prosecutors believed that they had secured a good deal for families of the victims, after forcing Boeing to establish a $500 million compensation fund. Boeing hoped the issue would be resolved with this, however they forgot one important step.

No one took the time to tell the families about the settlement before it was announced on Jan. 7, 2021. 

“Some of the families were irate that they had been left out of the loop. They believed the deal absolved Boeing’s management, and hired Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah with experience fighting for crime victims who accepted the case pro bono,” the WSJ reported.

While the family members received an apology for not being informed of the deal, the Justice Department took the stance that the people on the two flights that crashed — a Lion Air Flight and an Ethiopian Airlines flight — were not victims of an actual crime. 

This changed however when in January this year a panel flew off a 737 MAX while in mid flight, triggering a new criminal investigation and fresh worries about the safety culture at Boeing manufacturing facilities.


‘Deadliest corporate crime in US history’

Families of the 346 victims of the two crashes are now asking that Boeing be fined $24 billion, according to a letter delivered on June 19 to the Fraud Section of the Justice Department from the families’ attorney, Paul Cassell.

The letter asks for the “maximum possible fine” that is “legally justified and clearly appropriate” for what has been called “the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history.”

On Oct. 29, 2018 some 189 people died when a Boeing 737 MAX 8 plunged into the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia. Black box data from the flight revealed that the pilots struggled to fight the plane’s malfunctioning safety system from the moment of takeoff to the moment it crashed into the water. 

Only five months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 — another Boeing 737 MAX 8 — crashed just six minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board.

Many of the families attended the Capitol Hill Hearing on Tuesday, holding signs outside and shouting at Calhoun, who attempted to apologize for the company’s failures that led to the deaths.

In the hearing room, he turned to the families and said, “I apologize for the grief we have caused. We are focused on safety.”