Two Tiers: Justice Comes for Boeing and Trump in Very Different Ways

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In January of 2021, The Boeing Company and the Department of Justice entered into a deferred prosecution agreement following deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019. Deferred Prosecution Agreements are often used when dealing with large, publicly held corporations. The Arlington, Virginia, airline manufacturer agreed to a $2.5 billion settlement related to the 737 Max jet. Two 737 Maxs crashed, one in Indonesia in 2018 and another in Ethiopia in 2019. The two accidents killed a total of 346. After an investigation, it was revealed that, although Boeing was aware of a software sensor alert error following the first fatal crash, they didn’t alert the FAA before the second plane went down. Two employees had hidden information about the Max’s glitchy flight-control system, known as MCAS.

The Deferred Prosecution Agreement allowed Boeing to avoid a felony conviction if it met the agreed terms of a fine and approved safety protocol. The victims’ families were incensed. They claimed that Boeing had “killed” 346 people but had avoided any real consequences. 

Then, in January 2024, a panel blew off an in-flight Alaska Airlines 737 Max. The plane landed safely, but with the two fatal crashes and the panel blowout, the DOJ wasn’t convinced that Boeing had met the terms of the 2021 agreement. After the NTSB investigated, it found that four bolts were missing from the Alaska aircraft. An audit by the NTSB revealed “multiple” sloppy and dangerous “standards” by Boeing and its partner supplier Spirit Aerosystems. Questions were raised about what Boeing was prioritizing – safety or DEI. 

In 2024, Spirit became somewhat “infamous” when it was revealed that its employees wore “DEI” patches. 

A whistleblower came forward to reveal that Spirit seemed to be more into DEI patches than safety.

“We’re having a pizza party because we’re lowering defects,” [The whistleblower] said, who was a quality auditor at the factory before his firing, told National Public Radio. 

“But we’re not lowering defects. We just ain’t reporting them, you know what I mean?” 

Up to May 2024, Boeing had been fined and agreed to “fix” problems and had avoided a criminal conviction through “clever” lawyering. That changed in July 2024 when the aerospace giant agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud. Finally, Boeing is being held responsible for a felony. Boeing had misled regulators who had approved pilot-training standards for the Max.

Part of the plea (yet to be signed) involves a fine of $487.2 million. An additional $455 million is to be dedicated to compliance and safety standards. Considering that Boeing’s failures in manufacturing, efforts to hide information, and fraud resulted in the deaths of 346 people, it is getting off with another sweet deal. Boeing’s 2023 revenues topped $77.7 billion. It seems that a “penalty” of around .06 percent of their 2023 revenue is a cheap way to pay for 346 lost lives.

I can’t help but contrast Boeing’s fine of $487.2 million with Donald Trump’s “fraud” conviction. The trial resulted in bank executives testifying that not only were the banks not harmed, they would do business with Trump again. There were no victims. No one died. New York’s Attorney General Letitia James said: 

“Donald Trump is finally facing accountability for his lying, cheating, and staggering fraud. Because no matter how big, rich, or powerful you think you are, no one is above the law,” James said in a statement, calling the ruling “a tremendous victory for this state, this nation, and for everyone who believes that we all must play by the same rules — even former presidents.” 

James giddily announced that with interest “accruing every day,” Trump would have to pay $455 million for a victimless act. For a fraud that never happened. No victims. No one died. Boeing on the other hand did do something wrong. It will shortly agree to a felony fraud conviction and it will pay a fine that is close to the same amount James wants from Trump.

Boeing’s fine is about $1.4 million per dead victim. Trump’s fine (if upheld on appeal) is about $455 million per zero victim.

Justice does not seem to be served in an equal fashion.

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