A former chief technical pilot for Boeing was indicted Thursday on charges that he deceived federal aviation officials about the Max 737 jet, a plane later involved in two crashes that killed more than 340 people.
Mark A. Forkner, 49, was charged by a federal grand jury with fraud and wire fraud, the Justice Department said.
Forkner is accused of deceiving the Federal Aviation Administration, which was evaluating the new jet, particularly regarding its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.
"In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” Chad E. Meacham, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said in a statement.
Two of the 737 Max jets later crashed — Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia in 2018, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in Ethiopia in 2019. More than 340 people were killed in all. The Max jets were grounded in the United States and around the world.
According to the indictment, the FAA had been told the MCAS would operate at high speeds. It causes the aircraft nose to pitch down.
Forkner later learned it could operate at a lower speed, similar to those at takeoff and landing, but withheld that information from the FAA, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said the deception meant an FAA document did not reference the system, and neither did airplane manuals and pilot-training materials. The change to the MCAS was found after the deadly crashes.
Online federal court records did not appear to show the case or an attorney for Forkner on Thursday evening. An attorney who has reportedly been representing him did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Boeing declined to comment.
Boeing was criminally charged and admitted that two of its flight technical pilots misled the FAA about the flight system. The company in January agreed to pay $2.5 billion to settle the criminal case.
Court papers about the settlement said the pilots deceived the FAA through "misleading statements, half-truths, and omissions."
A 2020 House of Representatives investigative report blamed Boeing and the FAA. It accused the federal agency of "grossly insufficient oversight."
Forkner was charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. The aircraft-related fraud counts carry up to 20 years in prison each. He is expected to appear in a Texas federal court Friday.