Naoise Connolly Ryan on the Boeing Deferred Prosecution Deadline

The Justice Department must decide by July 7 whether to reinstate the criminal charges against Boeing for the deaths of 346 in two 737 MAX plane crashes more than five years ago.

Glenn Leon Chief
Fraud Section
Criminal Division
Department of Justice

The Department will be meeting with the victims’ families in Washington, D.C. on April 24.

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

“We assume that the Department of Justice will ask for the charges against Boeing to be dismissed,” Ryan told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month. “Our lawyer will ask that the charges not be dismissed. This deferred prosecution agreement was an agreement that should have never been brokered. The Department conducted the negotiations in secret without conferring with us. The Department has sought to sidestep that the whole way along, even though the court agreed that we were crime victims. But the court didn’t know how to remedy the situation.”

“One of the ways the Justice Department is seeking to whitewash its behavior is to hold these so-called conferral sessions with the crime victims’ families.”

“In fact, they were not conferring with us. In the first meeting, they were reading from a script, telling us how they came up with the deferred prosecution agreement. That was in November 2022.”

Where will the meeting between the Justice Department attorneys and the families on April 24 happen?

“The same place where it was held the last time, which was at the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.”

How many family members were in the room?

“The last time there were only two victims’ families in the room, including me.” 

This case had to do with both crashes – the Ethiopian and the Lion Air?

“Yes. It had to do with the 346 families. It was all put together very quickly. We were told about the November 2022 meeting with very little notice. It was on a whim and a prayer that I even got to the meeting in Washington with my two children in tow. But I felt I really needed to be there.” 

“It is so much different being in the meeting virtually, looking into a room over a computer screen compared to being actually in the room. You don’t have that human interaction. You can’t read the body language as much.” 

“I sat right next to the head of the Fraud Section, Glenn Leon. I could hear and feel his reactions.” 

What was your impression of him?

“He was going through a box ticking exercise and he was getting impatient with our questions. He was prepared to stay for any number of hours so he could say that he had carried out his duties. But there was no conferral. Everything was scripted. He had his piece of paper in front of him. And if someone asked him a question that didn’t fit the script, he would huff and puff. And then he would carry on as if he didn’t even hear the question and refer to some other answer that had nothing to do with the question being asked.”

“The body language was as if we were on the other side. We were very much on the other side.” 

“When they tried to placate us, they offered an olive branch. They said – if you have any information about Boeing, please come forward with it.”

“We said – okay, there is a gag order on our civil cases. Can you help us with this? Will you help us with this? There was no answer.”

“There was silence when we came forward even though they were saying to us – please come forward. Please bring your information. But then you got silence when it came to actual cooperation.”

“We asked that the Justice Department lawyers who stood with Boeing and against us in the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA) case in Texas – that they be recused. We didn’t want them in the room during that November 2022 meeting. It was very difficult to be sitting across the table from them.”

“They were supposed to be working with the crime victims’ families when in fact they were working with Boeing and against us.”

“They kept talking about good faith. But if they were acting in good faith, they should have stood up and said – you know what, we need to leave the room here. It’s not right that we sit in the same room as these families. We have gone against them in the courts. Let’s exchange our faces with some fresh faces from the Department of Justice so that these people can have some trust. And they refused. They literally held onto their chairs, sat still and didn’t move.”

How is it going to be different this time?

“I don’t really expect it to be different. The only thing that has happened since the last meeting that might make a difference is what happened on the Alaska Airlines flight back in January. I believe that the FBI has notified the families of that accident that they may be crime victims. They are treating the people from that accident that have survived as crime victims.” 

When I saw that report, I thought – well that is a direct result of the case that you brought in Texas. They didn’t want to be sued again so they alerted the Alaska Airlines passengers that they may be crime victims.

“If we had never brought the case against the Justice Department, they probably would not have been contacted. It is as a result of the case we have taken. I do agree it is another box ticking exercise.” 

“But having said that, they cannot now ignore that there is this criminal investigation and ongoing situation. If they proceed with us the same way they proceeded the last time, I wonder about the broader implications. How is this in the public interest? How does this affect public safety and looking out for the public? Isn’t that what the Justice Department is supposed to be doing? Not protecting criminals, but actually protecting the public from the criminals?”

“This will shine a light on how the Justice Department perceives the public and how they perceive our families as crime victims.”

You are seeking to lift, at least in part, the gag order governing the civil tort cases in Chicago. You wanted the Justice Department to intervene in that case to get those documents. What was the Department’s response to that request at the November 2022 meeting?

“Their response was silence. They run us around in silence with things like this. It’s saying to us – we support you, we are here for you, we are saying all the right things. But then when we make a specific request – support us with this, this will really help the case, this would bring evidence forward – then you get nothing, or silence, or you get some response that is evasive. They are not saying – yes we will help you, what support do you need from us, what do you need us to do? It’s like washing it away with a word salad. There has been absolutely no support from the Justice Department when it comes to this.”

“In terms of our own lawyers, they are doing absolutely everything they can to get this gag order lifted. But without the Justice Department coming in behind them, it is very difficult.”

In the civil tort cases, there was a recent joint status report that looks at the cases that have been settled and those left to be addressed. It looks as if maybe 100 out of the 140 cases that were filed against Boeing have been settled. There are 40 cases left. There are only two cases that are outliers – your case and another case. And they say in the joint status report that in both those cases, “the plaintiffs do not wish to negotiate.”

About 100 cases have been settled. About 40 cases remain that have not been settled. Have you heard any numbers on the amount of the settlements?

“Nothing. And I don’t want to know. I am not interested. I want truth, accountability and justice.”

Do you have a sense when your case might go to trial?

“No idea. Boeing keeps pushing it out. They are pleading with the judge to give them more time and they keep pushing our cases out. Every time I think – okay, it’s going to be this year in this month, they go to the judge and say – give us more time, don’t bring the Ryans into this yet. I can’t understand the judge’s leniency on that.”

Why is the judge allowing that?

“It doesn’t quite make sense to me. I suppose what the Boeing lawyers are telling the judge is – give us more time and we will settle with the families. But they know we are not going to settle. So I don’t understand why the judge doesn’t let our cases go ahead and then they can settle with the rest of them as they come along. It does not make sense to me.”

Why isn’t the Justice Department supporting your move to lift the gag order?

“The only explanation, as I said before, is that they are on the other side. They are kind of like the enemy. Why would they protect the criminals over the people who have been killed or injured by the criminal? Why wouldn’t you support the information being released? They have played the same tune as Boeing the whole way through.”

The criminal case could go one of three ways. The Justice Department re-opens the criminal case. Two, the Justice Department drops the charges. And three the Justice Department extends the deferred prosecution agreement.

“Do I see the Justice Department standing in front of the judge and saying – Boeing should be prosecuted, they have violated the terms of the agreement, they continue to lie and deceive, they are criminally negligent, so much so that it lead to another serious accident with Alaska Airlines and given all of that, we have come to the conclusion that Boeing needs to be prosecuted and the two CEOs should face prosecution for manslaughter? Do I see that happening? No.”

“Do I see the Justice Department coming to the judge and saying – judge, Boeing has complied with the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement and we ask for the charges to be dismissed. I can see that, absolutely.”

“My worst fear in all of this is – because it is a political year, with the public watching this case, to try and brush this under the rug in the same way they did so in formulating the deferred prosecution agreement – that they would extend the deferred prosecution agreement.”

“The reason that is my worst fear is because this has already been a nightmare situation to face. This deferred prosecution agreement should never have come about. And we have been fighting and fighting that for the last number of years. Not only did it pour salt in our wounds, but it opened new wounds. And it continues to pull us back into that nightmare, into that March 10 date. Another deferral would be crushing.”

“If the Justice Department has any chance of justice within them, they will not ask for another deferral.”

[For the complete Interview with Naoise Connolly Ryan, see 38 Corporate Crime Reporter 14(13), April 1, 2024, print edition only.]

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