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Families of 737 MAX victims sue to overturn DOJ’s immunity deal with Boeing

The families of 737 MAX crash victims have said the U.S. Justice Department violated their rights when it struck a deferred prosecution agreement with Boeing in January.

Relatives filed a motion on Thursday arguing the United States government ‘lied and violated their rights through a secret process’ by allowing Boeing to escape criminal charges.

As part of the deferred prosecution deal, Boeing test pilot Mark Forkner is the only person to be criminally charged in the two disastrous 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people in 2018 and 2019.

Now the families of two victims have asked a U.S. judge to declare that the order violated victims´ families rights to rescind Boeing’s immunity from criminal prosecution that was part of the $2.5 billion agreement.

The families of 737 MAX crash victims have said the U.S. Justice Department violated their rights when it struck a deferred prosecution agreement with Boeing in January. Pictured: Family members hold photos of Ethiopian 302 victims during a Congressional hearing

People walk past a part of the wreckage at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 10, 2019

People walk past a part of the wreckage at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 10, 2019

Mick Ryan

Jared Babu Mwazo

The motion was brought by the families of Mick Ryan (left) and Jared Babu Mwazo (right), who both perished in the Ethiopian Flight 302 crash

‘Boeing and the Government deliberately excluded those who were most concerned with the negotiations: the families of the victims,’ said attorney Paul G. Cassell, a former federal judge who is currently a professor of law at the University of Utah and considered one of the nation’s leading experts on crime victims’ rights. 

‘If the Government is going to craft a DPA for a serious felony crime, including one that gives a corporation like Boeing immunity, it cannot do so secretly. In concealing its negotiations from Boeing’s victims, the Government plainly violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act – a broad bill of rights protecting victims of federal crimes.’ 

The motion was brought by the families of Mick Ryan and Jared Babu Mwazo, who both perished in the Ethiopian Flight 302 crash. 

The victims’ families are seeking an order for the government to confer with them and provide evidence related to Boeing’s crimes and require Boeing to appear for a public arraignment where the victims can be heard.

They also ask the court to exercise its supervisory powers over the DPA which may include rescinding the immunity provision.

‘If the U.S. Justice Department had advised us of our right to confer with it about the crimes associated with the crash, we would have urged the Department to hold Boeing accountable to the full extent of U.S. criminal law,’ said Mick Ryan’s widow Naoise Connolly Ryan in a statement to DailyMail.com. 

Investigators with the U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) look over debris at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 on March 12, 2019 in Bishoftu, Ethiopia

Investigators with the U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) look over debris at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 on March 12, 2019 in Bishoftu, Ethiopia

‘We would have pointed out that the Boeing employees whose conduct form the basis of the Deferred Prosecution Agreement were acting in furtherance of Boeing’s program goals, set at the highest levels of the company,’ she added. 

‘Boeing should be fully prosecuted. The agreement reached under the Trump administration is merely a slap on the wrist that wrongly holds no executive accountable.’

Forkner, Boeing’s former chief technical pilot, was charged with fraud for deceiving federal regulators evaluating the company’s 737 MAX jet.

Boeing test pilot Mark Forkner is the only person to be criminally charged

Boeing test pilot Mark Forkner is the only person to be criminally charged

His attorneys said this week that a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official called him a ‘scapegoat’ for two fatal crashes. 

Lawyers for Mark Forkner said the FAA official with personal knowledge of the 737-MAX contacted the government and said Forkner ‘is a ‘scapegoat’ and should ‘not be charged.’ The court filing on Monday did not disclose the official’s name.

Boeing did not respond to a request for comment. The FAA did not immediately comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Northern Texas, where the case is being heard, declined to comment.

The filing also included parts of a PowerPoint from an unnamed FAA employee that defense lawyers said contain new disclosures about a key system known as MCAS that should have been disclosed by Boeing´s engineering team.

The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) is a software feature designed to automatically push the airplane´s nose down in certain conditions. It was tied to two crashes of the 737 MAX in Indonesia and Ethiopia over a five-month period in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people and led to the FAA’s grounding the plane for 20 months, an action lifted in November 2020.

The filing said Boeing engineers did not disclose key details of MCAS to Forkner or the FAA – including that MCAS could activate when it was not intended after a single faulty sensor.

In January, Boeing agreed to a $2.5 billion deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department over the MAX crashes, which cost Boeing more than $20 billion

In January, Boeing agreed to a $2.5 billion deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department over the MAX crashes, which cost Boeing more than $20 billion

The PowerPoint said the 737 MAX crashes ‘were caused by a failure of the engineering processes’ and argued the focus on training and the Forkner criminal charges ‘is not only incorrect and misguided, it is detracting from the real lessons.’

Excerpts of the presentation made public said it was to address a ‘potential miscarriage of justice.’

Lawyers asked a U.S. judge to allow current or former FAA officials permission to talk with Forkner’s defense team ahead of a trial set to begin in February. A redacted filing appears to show Forkner’s team wants to talk to two current officials and a former FAA employee.

Forkner was indicted in October on six counts of scheming to defraud Boeing’s U.S.-based airline customers to obtain tens of millions of dollars for Boeing. His lawyers said they have not been allowed to speak to the PowerPoint author.

According to the indictment, Forkner, largely in the run-up to the FAA’s decision to approve the 737 MAX in 2017, provided the FAA Aircraft Evaluation Group with ‘materially false, inaccurate, and incomplete information’ about MCAS. He has pleaded not guilty. 


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