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Ex-Boeing chief technical pilot who tested 737 MAX pleads not guilty to fraud charges

·3 min read

Mark Forkner, a Keller resident and former chief technical pilot for Boeing, pleaded not guilty to fraud charges during his first court appearance in Fort Worth on Friday.

Forkner, 49, is accused of withholding information from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Evaluation Group regarding the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System on Boeing 737 MAX airplanes during the certification process for the planes.

In a report published July 2017, the FAA did not include information about the new augmentation system, and pilots flying the Boeing 737 MAX airplanes were not notified of the system in their manuals, federal authorities said. After the report was published, two Boeing 737 MAX airplanes crashed: Lion Air Flight 610 near Jakarta, Indonesia, in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 near Ejere, Ethiopia, in March 2019. The crashes killed 346 people.

A federal grand jury in the Northern District of Texas indicted Forkner on Thursday on two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud.

On Friday, an attorney representing Forkner said his client was being used as a scapegoat for the crashes. He requested anyone who knew the truth, whether they were employees of Boeing or the FAA, to come forward.

“Everyone who was affected by this tragedy deserves a search for the truth, not a search for a scapegoat,” defense attorney David Gerger told reporters outside the courthouse, according to video from multiple sources. “If the government takes this case to trial, the truth will show that [Forkner] did not cause this tragedy, [Forkner] did not lie and [Forkner] should not be charged.”

The indictment alleges Forkner gave “materially false, inaccurate, and incomplete information” to the FAA around November 2016.

“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” said Chad Meacham, acting U.S. attorney for the Texas Northern District, in a news release. “His callous choice to mislead the FAA hampered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots in the lurch, lacking information about certain 737 MAX flight controls. The Department of Justice will not tolerate fraud — especially in industries where the stakes are so high.”

If convicted, Forkner could face up to 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud and 10 years in prison for each count of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce.

Forkner was released after his initial appearance Friday. A trial date has been scheduled for Nov. 15.

He is the only person to be charged in connection with the case.

In a deferred prosecution agreement in January, the Boeing company agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion in fines and other compensation. After the crashes, the FAA grounded the 737 MAX until November 2020.

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