A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted a former top pilot for Boeing, Mark Forkner, in connection with statements he and the company made about its troubled 737 Max jet, the culmination of a long investigation.
Mr. Forkner is accused of deceiving the Federal Aviation Administration and of “scheming to defraud Boeing’s U.S.‑based airline customers to obtain tens of millions of dollars for Boeing,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
Prosecutors contend that Mr. Forkner provided the aviation agency with “materially false, inaccurate, and incomplete information” about flight control software implicated in two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 in which 346 people were killed. That software, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, was designed to push down the plane’s nose in certain situations.
“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” Chad E. Meacham, the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said in a statement. “His callous choice to mislead the F.A.A. hampered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots in the lurch, lacking information about certain 737 Max flight controls.”
Mr. Forkner would be the first individual to face criminal charges related to the problems of the 737 Max. Boeing and the Justice Department in January announced that they had agreed to a $2.5 billion legal settlement to resolve a criminal charge that the company had conspired to defraud the F.A.A.
Lawyers for Mr. Forkner, who has been under investigation for more than a year and half, said in a statement to The New York Times last year that he “didn’t lie to anyone” and added that “he would never jeopardize the safety of other pilots or their passengers.”
Mr. Forkner is expected to make his initial court appearance on Friday in Fort Worth before a U.S. magistrate judge. The six charges he is indicted on carry maximum penalties totaling several decades in prison.
The Max was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The crashes deeply damaged Boeing’s reputation and its relationships with airlines, regulators and policymakers around the world. The company eventually fired its chief executive and the scandal has cost it billions of dollars.
The F.A.A. declined to comment. Boeing and Mr. Forkner’s lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.