Prosecutors Urged to Impose $24 Billion Fine on Boeing for 737 MAX Crashes

The families of the victims of the Boeing 737 MAX crashes have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue aggressive prosecution against The Boeing Company and its former corporate leadership. In a 32-page letter sent by Professor Paul Cassell of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, they are calling for a significant fine, corporate monitoring of Boeing, and criminal prosecution of its former executives.

In January 2021, the Department of Justice and Boeing reached a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) to address Boeing’s criminal responsibility for the two crashes that killed 346 people. Under this agreement, Boeing promised to enhance safety and compliance in aircraft production, and if it met these obligations, the criminal charges for concealing safety issues from the FAA would be dismissed. However, in April of this year, the Department concluded that Boeing had failed to meet its safety and compliance obligations under the DPA and sought input from the families on how to proceed.

The families are requesting a swift public jury trial on the charge against Boeing, followed by the imposition of a $24 billion fine. Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas has labeled the case as “the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history.” According to the families, the maximum permissible fine is $24.78 billion, part of which could be suspended if directed toward corporate compliance and new safety measures. They also urge the Department to appoint an independent monitor to review and direct improvements in Boeing’s safety measures.

Additionally, the letter calls for the prosecution of former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and other responsible executives for their role in concealing safety issues with the 737 MAX from the FAA. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has already collected substantial evidence against Muilenburg, who was fined $1 million for hiding these issues from the public and investors. Muilenburg was fired by Boeing in December 2019.

Professor Cassell stated in the letter, “The salient fact in this case is that Boeing lied, people died. Indeed, 346 people died in the deadliest corporate crime in our nation’s history. That staggering loss should be reflected in the sentence in this case—including in the fine. Indeed, it would almost be morally reprehensible if the criminal justice system was incapable of capturing the enormous human costs of Boeing’s crime.”

The families’ letter follows closely on the heels of a recent hearing before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Senator Richard Blumenthal. During the hearing, Blumenthal outlined numerous infractions by Boeing, including retaliation against whistleblowers. According to the senator, “[t]here is now overwhelming evidence, in my view as a former prosecutor, that prosecution should be pursued.” He added, “there are people who should be held accountable.”

Finally, the families request that Judge O’Connor order Boeing’s Board of Directors to meet with them to discuss the company’s safety issues.

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