Naoise Connolly Ryan on the Criminal Case Against Boeing

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Ft. Worth, Texas dashed the hopes of Boeing crash victims when he ruled that he would leave the Justice Department’s deferred prosecution intact and that he would not impose conditions of release on Boeing.

The late Mick Ryan with his children Saorlaith & Macdara.

Judge Reed O’Connor had raised the hopes of the victims when he ruled last year that the families were crime victims under the Crime Victims Rights Act. 

But in the ruling last week, Judge O’Connor said while “this Court has immense sympathy for the victims and loved ones of those who died in the tragic plane crashes resulting from Boeing’s criminal conspiracy,” his hands were tied by Congress.

“Had Congress vested this Court with sweeping authority to ensure that justice is done in a case like this one, it would not hesitate,” Judge O’Connor wrote. “But neither the Speedy Trial Act nor this Court’s inherent supervisory powers provide a means to remedy the incalculable harm that the victims’ representatives have suffered. And no measure of sympathy nor desire for justice to be done would legitimize this Court’s exceeding the lawful scope of its judicial authority.”

Boeing families’ lawyer Paul Cassell said he would appeal the ruling.

“Boeing and the Department of Justice crafted an illegal and secret plea deal without any chance for the families to confer about it, which is required by the Crime Victims Rights Act,” Cassell said.

“We are optimistic our appeal will vindicate the families’ rights in this case and ensure that never again are deals like this one reached secretly and without victim involvement.”

Naoise Connolly Ryan, who lives in Ireland with her two young children, lost her husband Mick Ryan in the Ethiopian crash in 2019.

“I saw the headline from Reuters – Judge Rejects Family’s Plea,” Ryan told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “When we went to court in December to make the plea for the judge to throw out the deferred prosecution agreement, we were making a plea to the court that we knew with this judge that we wouldn’t get. But we were also asking for something very specific – to install an independent monitor. As I read down through the news, I realized that the judge had thrown out all of our requests – from nullifying the deferred prosecution agreement down to even appointing a monitor.” 

“The judge said that there was nothing he could do. He said he sympathized with the families, and if Congress had given him the power to do something, he would have no hesitation to do it. And I just became totally bewildered by what I was reading. At one level, he was saying that the full force of the law should come down on Boeing and the responsible executives. And at another level, he wasn’t even doing the bare minimum to insure that something was being done, that justice in some way would and could prevail in this case.” 

“In some ways I still haven’t even processed what happened here. This is one of the deadliest corporate crimes in the history of the United States. And he has called these people criminals. And he has acknowledged that we are crime victims. And yet we were given nothing in return.”

When the Judge ruled last year that the Boeing family members were crime victims, the Justice Department responded with a meeting with the victims. 

What happened at the Justice Department when you met with the prosecutors?

“It was meant to be a meet and confer,” Ryan said. “Last week, the judge mentioned this meeting. He said that we met and conferred with the Department of Justice. But excuse the French – that is bullshit. We met with the Department of Justice, but we didn’t get a chance to confer with the Department of Justice because they had already filed their briefs to the court on remedies, before ever conferring with us. That is not meet and confer. They just met with us.”

At that meeting, the Justice Department’s team was headed up by Glenn Leon, the chief of the Fraud Section. 

“I was sitting right next to Glenn Leon,” Ryan said. “I could hear and see everything. I could read his body language. In the beginning, I believe he wanted to portray an image of someone who was listening and open to what the families were saying. Most of the family members attended on Zoom. And on Zoom, you do not get the same impression as you would if you were sitting next to these guys, as I was.”

“After a while, the families got more and more agitated in the meeting simply because it became clear that it was – I’m trying to find a better word than bullshit. The Department of Justice had already filed their brief saying we were due no remedies. Same as Boeing’s brief. It was smoke and mirrors.”

“It was a six hour meeting. And Glenn Leon started to show his impatience as the meeting progressed. He started to huff and puff as the victims’ families came in looking for answers, demanding answers. And he was trying to stick to the script. He had these scripted answers and he was reading them to tell us what we needed to hear as far as he was concerned. But the families were interjecting saying – this is not okay, this is not right, shame on you.” 

“As time went on, he went from showing impatience to talking about good faith. He said that the Department of Justice wanted to show good faith with the victims’ families. We said – the Justice Department lawyers sitting in this meeting argued that we were not crime victims. If you want to show good faith, then tell them to leave this meeting, because we don’t trust them. They should get up and leave.” 

“And they sat glued to their chairs, staring at Glenn Leon. And Glenn Leon stuck to the party line and began huffing and puffing again. He continued as though we had never even asked this question. He didn’t even say – no they are not going to be recused. He just carried forward.”

“It just comes to a point that you are at a loss watching this unfold. And you wonder – am I sitting with the good guys or the bad guys?”

The Boeing deferred prosecution agreement was negotiated under President Trump. But here comes a new administration under President Biden with the ability and the opportunity to overturn it, start over and prosecute Boeing and its executives for one of the worst corporate crimes in history. And yet they have the same playbook and stand in line with Boeing. 

Having sat next to Glenn Leon for six hours during that meeting, what was your understanding as to his motivation?

“I heard different theories about why this happened this way,” Ryan said. “Why didn’t the Attorney General Merrick Garland undo this agreement when he became Attorney General? Most people say they don’t want to show that a different political administration matters to the Department of Justice, that it’s always business as usual. He doesn’t want to be the one undoing things a previous President brought about. Maybe that is the case.”

“But once we won our victims rights case, there was an opportunity for Merrick Garland to stand up and say – okay, this is blindingly obvious, this should not have happened. This agreement needs to be thrown out.”

“Last December, our Prime Minister in Ireland got in touch with President Biden requesting a meeting with Merrick Garland. Our Department of Foreign Affairs got in touch through the Irish Embassy requesting a meeting with Merrick Garland. Merrick Garland never had that meeting with us. This was after we won our victims’ rights case and we were looking for a meeting with him to discuss how we move forward.” 

“You could say one of two things there. Either President Biden never spoke to Merrick Garland and said – have that meeting. Or Merrick Garland said – I’m not meeting with them and Biden agreed. That’s all I know.”

Your Prime Minister spoke with President Biden directly asking for a meeting with the victims?

“Yes. I have a letter confirming that.” 

And that meeting never happened. 

But wasn’t there a meeting last year with Merrick Garland?

“Yes. In January 2022, we were trying to get Merrick Garland to acknowledge we were crime victims. He met with us. That was a listening session. He listened to us but he said nothing. He said absolutely nothing. The Department of Justice then continued its fight against us, arguing that we were not crime victims. Then the judge ruled in November that we were crime victims. And they had to meet with us. Then the Prime Minister of Ireland contacted President Biden and said – the victims were not happy with the meeting they had with Glenn Leon and the Department of Justice, they would like to meet with the Attorney General once again, this time not a listening session, but a question and answer session with Merrick Garland. And no meeting took place.”

Every family received $1.5 million from the Justice Department’s deferred prosecution settlement fund. You didn’t accept the $1.5 million. You said it was blood money. Where did that money go?

“There is a stipulation that it can’t go back to Boeing. It’s just sitting there somewhere. I presume that something will happen to it. It might go to charity. Maybe I will have a say as to what charity it will go to.” 

“But for me, this deferred prosecution was unjust and I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I don’t want the money they offered to make all of this go away for Boeing.”

Most of the victims’ families want Boeing CEO David Calhoun and former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg criminally prosecuted and sent to prison. 

Two of the trial lawyers in the United States, Robert Clifford and Shanin Specter. have written an article titled – It’s Time for a Criminal Investigation of Boeing’s CEOs. 

In it they write this:

“The public communications that Boeing made at Muilenburg’s and Calhoun’s insistence have now been recognized as false and misleading by both the relevant court and relevant regulator. These were statements that the U.S. government and the general public trusted regarding the 737 MAX 8’s safety. Muilenburg and Calhoun were also pivotal in Boeing’s decision to allow the unsafe 737 MAX 8 to keep flying after the first crash in 2018. This led directly to the second, fatal crash in Ethiopia. Such irresponsible conduct – if proven in criminal court – needs to be punished, both for the memories of the deceased and for the safety of the general public. It’s time for the criminal justice system to look at the behavior of both Muilenburg and Calhoun.”

That call for a criminal investigation is based on public communications. 

But much more has come out in discovery in the trials proceedings in the United States.

What do you know about that evidence?

“I know that there is something called a gag order,” Ryan said. “Going back to 2021, I was hearing about this gag order that Boeing got to make sure that any information at all that came out during the discovery in the civil cases, and these included depositions, that none of this information could be revealed to the public. And if anyone did reveal it, they could end up in jail basically.”

“Because I’m a foreigner outside of the United States, there might be information I can be told but not shown. Apparently, U.S. citizens who are suing Boeing can be shown the information, but they are still under the so-called gag order. They can’t pass it on.” 

“If we do anything to pass this information on to the public, we end up in jail. But these guys who killed 346 people, nothing happens to them. They get to pay their way out of this. Where is the justice in that? Where is the right in that?”

“I know there is information under this gag order that we would like to share with the Department of Justice. But we can’t share it, even with them. But we did ask the Department of Justice to support us in removing this gag order. Their first answer was – we can’t interfere with civil cases. Our reply was – we are not asking you to interfere with a civil case, we are asking you to remove the seal.” 

“The Justice Department told us several times – if you have any information, please come forward. And several times we answered, we have information, but it is under the seal. Support us in removing the seal. And in the end, they couldn’t say no. If they had outright come out and said – we can’t do that – it would have been absurd. But instead, they said – we will look into it. And they have yet to answer or say – yes, we will help you remove this seal.”

That was Glenn Leon saying – we’ll get back to you.

“Yes – he said they would look into it. But we have not received an answer. We have received no support and no answer.”

When Ryan went before Judge O’Connor last month in federal court in Ft. Worth, she told him that “since losing Mick, I have experienced unimaginable trauma and suffering.”

“The life we once knew, the joy, the laughter has all been obliterated from our lives,” Ryan told the Judge. “I’m stuck in a never-ending time loop that brings me right back to the 10th of March time and time again.”

“The nightmares of planes falling from the sky, visions of what Mick must have experienced, the absolute terror, how he must have felt, the thoughts that must have gone through his head in those final moments.” 

“For the first year after the crash, I didn’t sleep. It was easier not to sleep. Sleep brought no comfort, just more nightmares. But I had a young baby and a young child that needed me. I needed to find the strength to look after our children. So I started to hope. Hope that justice would prevail and that those that were culpable, the CEOs of Boeing, Muilenburg, and Calhoun in particular, that they would be held to account.” 

“My children are growing up fast. The past four years of their young lives have been traumatic and impossibly sad. They suffer from anxiety that they will lose their mother too. My son calls me continuously when we are at home to try and reassure himself that I am still there. My daughter has cried out for her daddy in the middle of the night. She remembers him, but the memories are fading and she gets anxious about forgetting him. She has one very large and dark memory however and that is how she lost him.” 

“We have since moved back from Rome, back to Ireland in the hope of rebuilding our lives. I had to change my daughter to a smaller school because she felt too overwhelmed because all the other kids had a daddy. She suffers from anxiety and depression. She also fears that she will lose me too.” 

“This is my second trip to the U.S. in two months and each time I’ve had to take my children with me. They are scared to fly but they are more afraid to be left behind with the thought that they might never see me again. But I had to make this journey so that I could be here today to be heard and make a plea to the Court.” 

“The secret sweetheart deal that was hatched between Boeing and the Department of Justice is not justice,” Ryan said.

“I refuse to accept the deferred prosecution agreement compensation money for this reason. I do not want their blood money. I want the truth, real justice, and accountability. I believe Muilenburg and Calhoun should face a public trial and be prosecuted for manslaughter.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Naoise Connolly Ryan, see 37 Corporate Crime Reporter 8(12), February 13, 2023, print edition only.]

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