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DOJ schedules meeting with Boeing victims as decision nears over whether company breached prosecution deal

todayMay 7, 2024

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(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department on Tuesday contacted the families of victims of two fatal Boeing 737 Max crashes as it nears a crucial decision over whether the company violated a 2021 deal that allowed it to escape criminal prosecution over the incidents, according to a letter obtained by ABC News.

The letter, sent by the department’s fraud section, invited families to attend a May 31 meeting where they will be informed of the DOJ’s decision as to whether the company breached the deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA.

If prosecutors believe they can make the case that Boeing violated the agreement’s terms — which demanded the company’s continued cooperation with the government, a requirement it disclose any allegations of fraud, and avoid committing any felony offenses — it would pave the way for a historic criminal prosecution of the aerospace giant that could have widespread impacts on the country’s aviation industry.

“The DOJ has been very nontransparent in disclosing to the families how they are going about making the determination of compliance or breach,” said Robert Clifford, a lawyer representing families of Max crash victims. “That has been a very disappointing feature of the department’s contact and communication with the families. But, in fairness to the department, prosecutors seldom discuss the details of their investigations, so this is not out of the ordinary.”

The meeting will be the fourth conferral session between the Justice Department and the families of passengers who died in the 2018 and 2019 crashes of two 737 Max airplanes who for years have accused the DOJ of cutting a “sweetheart deal” with Boeing that should be thrown out.

Attorneys for the victims have pointed to numerous allegations of potential wrongdoing since the deal was cut — such as claims from whistleblowers, which Boeing has denied — that the company flouted regulations and measures meant to protect its customers’ safety, as well as the January door plug incident on an Alaska Airlines flight that is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation.

“From a prosecutorial point of view, I believe they likely have enough evidence to prove Boeing violated the DPA,” said Mark Lindquist, an attorney representing a number of victims’ families. “In plain language, the main point of a deferred prosecution agreement is this: Don’t screw up again. Boeing screwed up again. The door plug blowout on the Max 9 is just one example.”

The letter from the DOJ on Tuesday states that families will meet with attorneys from the department’s fraud section over a period of seven hours on May 31, where they’ll be told of the DOJ’s decision “and potential next steps, and to hear your input and views on the same.”

ABC News has reached out to Boeing for comment.

A DOJ spokesperson did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment on the letter.

“I firmly believe that entering into this resolution is the right thing for us to do — a step that appropriately acknowledges how we fell short of our values and expectations,” David Calhoun, Boeing president and CEO, said in a note to employees after the company was charged by the DOJ in 2021. “This resolution is a serious reminder to all of us of how critical our obligation of transparency to regulators is, and the consequences that our company can face if any one of us falls short of those expectations.”

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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