Boeing agrees to plead guilty to felony in deal with justice department

Families whose relatives died in crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max 8 planes protest at a hearing on June 18 on Capitol Hill. (Eric Lee/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — Boeing agreed Sunday to plead guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to defraud the federal government over two fatal crashes of the 737 Max in 2018 and 2019, according to a late-night court filing.

In the deal with the department, Boeing also agreed to pay a $487.2 million fine — the maximum allowed by law — and invest at least $455 million over the next three years to strengthen its compliance and safety programs.

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The company will be put on probation, supervised by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, for three years. As part of the probation, the Justice Department will appoint an independent compliance monitor who will make sure that safety measures are in place and followed, submitting annual reports to the government. The company will face additional penalties if any of the terms are violated. The company’s board of directors will also be required to meet with crash victims’ families.

The deal reached Sunday stems from violations of an agreement that Boeing had reached with the Justice Department in 2021 that it would make significant safety changes after the two deadly crashes.

The department and Boeing made a joint filing Sunday night, notifying the District Court that they had agreed in principle. In the next week or so, the formal agreement will be filed. The court will then set a hearing for the company to formally enter its guilty plea. Victims’ families will be able to speak during that hearing.

Families of the victims, who were briefed a week ago on the general outlines of the deal, had said it did not go far enough. Paul G. Cassell, a lawyer for more than a dozen of the families, said the families had sought an admission of fault in the deaths of 346 people who were killed in the crashes, which involved Boeing’s troubled 737 Max plane in Indonesia and Ethiopia in late 2018 and early 2019. The families had hoped for stiffer consequences for the company and its executives, including a trial.

The families said they will object to the deal.

Boeing’s decision to plead guilty does not provide immunity to any employees or corporate executives. And the deal does not protect it from charges that might come from other investigations.

A Boeing spokesperson confirmed that the company reached an agreement with the Justice Department, but declined to comment further.

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