U.S. Attorney General Garland meets with Boeing 737 MAX families

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice in Washington

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday met with family members of some of the victims of two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes over the prior administration’s decision to strike a deferred prosecution agreement with Boeing.

In December, some victims’ relatives said the Justice Department violated their rights when it struck the January 2021 agreement with Boeing over the two crashes in a five-month period that killed 346 people.

They argued the U.S. government “lied and violated their rights through a secret process,” and asked a judge to rescind Boeing’s immunity from criminal prosecution, which was part of the $2.5 billion agreement, and order the planemaker publicly arraigned on the felony charges.

Paul Cassell, a lawyer for the families, said that in the Garland meeting they “expressed our view that the department under the previous administration ignored its obligations under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, and our hope that he would intervene to right this wrong.”

The Justice Department did not immediately comment.

The January 2021 settlement allowed Boeing to avoid prosecution, and includes a fine of $243.6 million, compensation to airlines of $1.77 billion and a $500 million crash-victim fund over fraud conspiracy charges related to the plane’s flawed design.

The Justice Department deal capped a 21-month investigation into the design and development of the 737 MAX following the two crashes, in Indonesia and Ethiopia in 2018 and 2019.

In October, a former Boeing chief technical pilot for Boeing was charged with fraud for deceiving federal regulators evaluating the company’s 737 MAX jet. He has denied wrongdoing.

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The crashes, which cost Boeing some $20 billion and led to the plane’s 20-month grounding, which was lifted in late 2020, prompted Congress to pass legislation reforming new airplane certification.

The $243 million fine, which the Justice Department said was at the “low end” of the sentencing guidelines, represented the amount Boeing saved by not implementing full-flight simulator training.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)