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Families of those killed in Boeing Max crashes ask Justice Department to impose $24 billion fine

Families of those killed in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610 at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Investigations Subcommittee hearing on Boeing on June 18, 2024 Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The Department of Justice should impose a more than $24 billion fine on Boeing, according to the families of the 346 victims of two 737 Max 8 crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

The families’ attorney, Paul Cassell, stated in a letter Wednesday to the Fraud Section of the Justice Department that a “maximum possible fine” is “legally justified and clearly appropriate” for what has been called “the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history.”

The letter from the families came in response to a request from the Justice Department for their views on how the department should proceed, now that the government has deemed Boeing to be in breach of a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement that followed the crashes.

Some 189 people died when a Boeing 737 Max 8 plunged into the Java Sea off Indonesia on Oct. 29, 2018. Black box data from the Lion Air jet revealed the pilots struggled to fight the plane’s malfunctioning safety system from takeoff to the moment it nose-dived into the water.

Just five months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 — another Boeing 737 Max 8 — crashed near Addis Ababa airport just six minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board.

Many of the family members showed up on Capitol Hill Tuesday during Senate subcommittee testimony by outgoing Boeing CEO David Calhoun. They held signs and shouted at Calhoun, who attempted to apologize for the failures of Boeing’s safety culture that led to the crashes.

He turned to the families in the hearing room, saying, “I apologize for the grief we have caused. We are focused on safety.”

In the final days of the Trump administration, the DOJ charged Boeing in a criminal information with one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. for allegedly misleading the Federal Aviation Administration during the agency’s evaluation of the new Max 8 aircraft.

The DOJ agreed to defer criminal prosecution for three years, but informed the company last month that it had allegedly failed to live up to its obligations under the deferred prosecution agreement. The Justice Department has indicated it is deliberating over whether to proceed with a prosecution of the company, and has said a decision will come on or before July 7.

ABC News has reached out to Boeing for comment.

Boeing has previously disputed the DOJ’s finding of a breach.

“We believe that we have honored the terms of that agreement, and look forward to the opportunity to respond to the Department on this issue,” the company said in a statement in May.

The families argue in the letter to the Justice Department that the “appropriate action now is an aggressive criminal prosecution of The Boeing Company” in a jury trial. If the government enters plea negotiations with Boeing, the families contend the company should be offered no concessions.

“A single conspiracy charge for fraud in a case revolving around 346 deaths is already extremely lenient treatment for such an extraordinarily serious crime. Against that backdrop, any further leniency through plea concessions would be utterly inappropriate,” the letter reads.

The families also advocate for criminal prosecutions of the responsible corporate officials at Boeing at the time of the two crashes.

The families further recommend:

  • a portion of the fine should be devoted to appropriate safety and related measures;
  • the court appoint an independent corporate monitor;
  • the company remain on probation for five years;
  • Boeing’s Board of Directors should meet with families;
  • the DOJ continues investigation of other possible crimes

“The salient fact in this case is not complicated: Boeing lied, people died,” Cassell wrote. “That staggering loss should be reflected in the sentence in this case — including in the fine. Indeed, it would be morally reprehensible if the criminal justice system was incapable of capturing the enormous human costs of Boeing’s crime.”

The letter notes the families will “vehemently and appropriately object to any resolution that does not acknowledge Boeing’s responsibility for criminally killing their loved ones.”

The families’ letter also indicates they reached the $24 billion figure by calculating the total pecuniary value of the 346 lives lost and the total economic loss to Boeing’s customers, and then doubling it, in accordance with an alternative fines provision of the U.S. criminal code.

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