Boeing Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy Charge but Avoids Harsher Penalties Sought by Families of Victims

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jul 08, 2024

Last week, the Department of Justice offered Boeing a plea deal where it would plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States after two fatal 737 Max crashes that killed hundreds of people.

Reportedly, Boeing has agreed to accept the plea deal, much to the dismay of victims’ families who have made statements calling it a “sweetheart deal” and “miscarriage of justice.”

Plea Deal

The Justice Department said in a court filing on Sunday that Boeing has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy.

A close-up of a wooden judge’s gavel.

Source: Tingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash

The deal would force Boeing to pay $487 million in fines, which is much smaller than the $24.8 billion that victims’ families had been pushing for. The agreement also forces Boeing to be under the watch of an independent monitor for three years and make improvements to its safety and quality procedures.


DOJ Statement

In a statement defending the plea deal, the Justice Department argued that it forced Boeing to agree to the most serious penalties available and it secured historic investments from the airplane manufacturer.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

“This resolution protects the American public,” said the DOJ’s statement. “Boeing will be required to make historic investments to strengthen and integrate its compliance and safety programs. This criminal conviction demonstrates the department’s commitment to holding Boeing accountable for its misconduct.”

Demand for a Trial

Victim’s families had been pushing for Boeing to be forced to defend itself in court and to receive maximum penalties for its conduct. These families are disappointed in the DOJ plea deal.

A close-up of a Lady Justice statue on a desk with a person writing behind it.


“This sweetheart deal fails to recognize that because of Boeing’s conspiracy, 346 people died,” said a statement from Paul Cassell, a representative of many family members of the 2018 and 2019 crash victims. “This deceptive and generous deal is clearly not in the public interest.”

DOJ Insists Justice is Served

While families of the victims are not satisfied with the outcome, the Department of Justice feels that this is the best way to ensure Boeing is held to task, especially given recent incidents this year that raised more quality control questions.

A Southwest Boeing jet taking off in the daytime.

Source: Bill Abbott/Wikimedia Commons

“DOJ is resolving with Boeing only for misconduct that predated the 737 Max crashes — and not providing immunity for any other corporate conduct, including the Alaska Airlines 1282 incident,” said the DOJ.

Open For More Penalties

In their statement, the DOJ emphasized that it has left the door open to individual employees to be penalized for the conduct and that families can still take this criminal conviction to help them in a civil case.

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“DOJ is resolving only with the company — and providing no immunity to any individual employees, including corporate executives, for any conduct,” said the DOJ.


Miscarriage of Justice

Zipporah Kuria, a family member who lost her father in the Ethiopian Airlines crash blasted the deal as unjust.

A view of the Lady Justice statue.

Source: Tingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash

“Miscarriage of justice is a gross understatement in describing this,” said Kuria. “I hope that, God forbid, if this happens again the DoJ is reminded that it had the opportunity to do something meaningful and instead chose not to.”


Not Finalized

While the deal has reportedly been accepted by both the DOJ and Boeing, it is not the end of the story.

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Before it can be official, the deal has to be accepted by the judge, which gives victims’ families time to formally declare their opposition to the agreement.


Fast Filing

According to DOJ court filings, the plea agreement is hoping to reach a quick resolution and both parties are “proceeding expeditiously to document and memorialize the terms and understandings into a written plea agreement and expect to file the agreement with the Court by no later than July 19, 2024.”

A Boeing 737 plane flying overhead in a cloudy sky.

Source: Cody Fitzgerald/Unsplash

This only gives victim’s families a limited time to file their opposition in the U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas.


Family Filing

On Sunday night, attorneys for the victim’s families already signaled their intent to voice their opposition to the plea deal.

A close-up of a wooden judge’s gavel on white marble surface.

Source: Wesley Tingey/Unsplash

“The families intend to argue that the plea deal with Boeing unfairly makes concessions to Boeing that other criminal defendants would never receive and fails to hold Boeing accountable for the deaths of 346 persons. As a result, the generous plea agreement rests on deceptive and offensive premises,” the attorneys for the families wrote.


Online Reaction

Many commenters online were not convinced by the plea deal, with some feeling like Boeing was getting off too easy.

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“So who is going to prison?  Two full planes of people are dead.  Paying a fine with a golden parachute isn’t justice,” said one X user.


Avoiding Prison

Others expressed doubt that anyone will be forced to go to prison or be subject to real accountability.

Someone looks at the hallway of a prison from inside a cell.

Source: Matthew Ansley/Unsplash

“I assume those responsible will avoid prison,” said X user Kim Masters. “If we were living in sane times, @Boeing would have been grounded until thoroughly investigated and problems corrected long ago,” said X user Heather Haddad.