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Boeing Failures Should Invite Justice Department Scrutiny of Max Crash Case, Prosecution for Crimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The door plug failure on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 should ignite a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation to assess whether Boeing violated the deal it struck to resolve the case involving the deadly 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019, Public Citizen said in a letter sent today to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, and other top officials.

The 2021 deal struck between the DOJ and Boeing over misconduct related to the 737 Max crashes, which claimed 346 lives, expired in January, just days before the door plug failure. Prosecutors have six months following its expiration to determine whether Boeing abided by the deal. If Boeing violated its deal with the DOJ, the deal states that the corporation shall be subject to prosecution for any federal criminal violation that prosecutors know about.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s door plug investigation alleges, “Boeing may have failed to ensure its completed products conformed to its approved design and were in a condition for safe operation in accordance with quality system inspection and test procedures.”  

This alleged failure may constitute a violation of the 2021 deal, called a deferred prosecution agreement. If the DOJ concludes Boeing violated the 2021 deal, the DOJ should prosecute Boeing for criminal misconduct and consider manslaughter charges for the 2018 and 2019 crashes, Public Citizen argued.

“The Boeing Company is fast becoming a case study in how a leniency deal between the U.S. Department of Justice and a corporate criminal fails to protect the public, reform a corporate offender, and deter corporate crime,” the letter reads. “If the new investigations stemming from the malfunctioning Boeing 737 Max 9 door plug on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 expose criminal misconduct, we urge you to hold Boeing fully accountable.”

“The DOJ’s 2021 leniency deal for Boeing was a travesty and a shameful dishonoring of those who lost their lives in the 737 Max crashes. Such kid-glove treatment invites further corporate wrongdoing,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen and co-author of the letter. “Looking forward, if the DOJ finds Boeing again violated the law, Boeing should be prosecuted both for its original and its subsequent misconduct. Boeing should be charged as aggressively as the facts and the law support, including possibly with multiple counts and manslaughter charges.”