The Justice Department charged Boeing with a crime last year after the company admitted its employees deceived federal safety regulators about software on its 737 Max planes. In January 2021, DOJ criminal division chief David Burns said the resolution of the case “holds Boeing accountable for its employees’ criminal misconduct.” Yet in a legal filing this year, and in a Texas courtroom this week, DOJ argued that the 346 people killed when Max planes crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia are not “crime victims” under federal law, reports the Washington Post. Relatives of those killed want to throw out an agreement signed in the last days of the Trump administration under which DOJ would drop its prosecution on the count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. if Boeing met certain conditions over more than three years.
In an effort to protect that agreement, DOJ repeatedly has told a federal judge that its case against Boeing didn’t prove the company’s misdeeds were directly related to the crashes. The department’s resistance to deeming the dead “crime victims” was criticized at both ends of the political spectrum. Conservative lawyer Bruce Fein, a DOJ official under President Reagan, called it “absolutely absurd,” while liberal activist Ralph Nader, whose grandniece was killed on one flight, said it reflects “the further debasement of the Justice Department’s sweetheart relationship with corporate criminals.” Boeing admitted in its deferred prosecution agreement that its employees “intentionally withheld and concealed” key information about an automated flight control system from the Federal Aviation Administration. Flaws in that system forced the noses of the planes down, overwhelming pilots. Relatives of 18 of those who were killed have asked U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth to rule that their rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act were violated.