During his first court appearance in Fort Worth on Friday, Mark Forkner, a Keller resident, and former Boeing chief technical pilot pleaded not guilty to fraud charges.
During the certification procedure for the Boeing 737 MAX planes, Forkner, 49, is accused of hiding information from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Evaluation Group about the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System.
According to federal authorities, the FAA did not include details about the new augmentation system in a study issued in July 2017, and pilots flying Boeing 737 MAX jets were not alerted about the system in their manuals.
Two Boeing 737 MAX planes crashed after the report was released: Lion Air Flight 610 near Jakarta, Indonesia, in October 2018, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 near Ejere, Ethiopia, in March 2019. The crashes claimed the lives of 346 individuals.
On Thursday, a federal grand jury in the Northern District of Texas accused Forkner on two counts of interstate commerce fraud and four counts of wire fraud.
An attorney for Forkner claimed on Friday that his client was being made a scapegoat for the crashes. He asked everyone who knew the truth to come forward, whether they worked for Boeing or the FAA.
“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 a 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.”
According to the indictment, Forkner provided the FAA with “materially false, inaccurate, and incomplete information” in November 2016. In an attempt to save money for Boeing, Forkner reportedly hid key information from regulators, according to Chad Meacham, acting US 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 may face up to 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud and ten years in prison for each count of interstate commerce fraud involving aviation parts.
After his initial appearance on Friday, Forkner was discharged. The date of the trial has been set for Nov. 15. He is the only individual who has been charged in the case.