The US has said it will file a guilty plea against Boeing to avoid trial in the 737 Max plane crash case.


The Justice Department plans to allow Boeing to avoid criminal prosecution if it agrees to plead guilty to fraud charges arising from two fatal crashes of its 737 Max more than five years ago, according to two lawyers for families of crash victims.

Federal officials shared details of the proposal in conversations with the families on Sunday afternoon, according to lawyers Paul G. Cassel and Mark Lindquist, and said the Justice Department had not yet brought the deal to Boeing.

The conditions include a fine of about $244 million, new investments in safety improvements, a three-year investigation by an outside monitor and meetings between Boeing's board and victims' families, said Mr. Castle, the University of Utah law professor.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while Boeing also declined to comment.

Mr Castle, who represents more than a dozen families, said he and his family found the deal “insulting” and far below what they had asked for. He described the offer as a “sweetheart plea deal” because it would not force Boeing to admit fault in the deaths of the 346 people killed in the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia in late 2018 and early 2019.

“The families will vigorously oppose this plea deal,” Mr. Castle said in a statement. “The memory of the 346 innocent people killed by Boeing demands more justice than this.”

The Justice Department said it planned to notify Boeing of its proposal after the call, Mr. Castle said.

The terms reportedly being offered to Boeing would update a 2021 agreement that resolved a criminal charge accusing the aerospace giant of conspiring to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration. Under the new agreement, Boeing would have to plead guilty to that charge, according to lawyers.

The 2021 criminal charge centered on two employees who were accused of concealing information from the FAA about changes made to software called MCAS, which was later implicated in the crashes.

Under the earlier deal, the airline had agreed to pay $500 million to the families of the victims and more than $1.7 billion to its customers for missing out on Max deliveries during the 20-month global ban on the jet.

In May the Justice Department found that Boeing had violated the agreement by failing to adequately prevent subsequent violations of US fraud laws in its operations. In a statement at the time, Boeing said it believed it had honored the terms of the earlier agreement.

In considering how to punish Boeing for the accidents, the Justice Department faced competing pressures to hold Boeing accountable for its failures while not harming the company, given Boeing's vital role in the nation's economy and national security.

The 2021 settlement angered families of crash victims, who have long argued that Boeing and its executives should face greater consequences, including public lawsuits. Many of those families have reached civil settlements with the company, though a handful are fighting civil damage trials that are set to begin later this year.

In 2022, a jury in Texas acquitted former Boeing technical pilot Mark A. Forkner of defrauding two of the company's customers, the only criminal case the federal government brought against an individual connected to the crashes.

The Justice Department has also launched a criminal investigation into Boeing over a flight in January in which a panel blew off a Max jet operated by Alaska Airlines. No major injuries were reported, but the incident has reignited concerns among lawmakers and the public about the quality of Boeing jets.

Mark Walker Contributed reporting.


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