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Boeing sued for "bogus parts"

A federal court has dismissed much of a whistle-blower lawsuit claiming commercial and military Boeing planes contain "bogus parts".

india Updated: Mar 02, 2006 15:05 IST

A federal court has dismissed much of a whistle-blower lawsuit claiming commercial and military planes built by The Boeing Co contain "bogus parts" and should be grounded, but kept the lawsuit alive on allegations that the company retaliated against the employees.

In an order made public on Tuesday, US District Judge Wesley Brown said he was dismissing parts of the case -- filed under the False Claims Act-- because the plaintiffs were not specific enough in their allegations that Boeing defrauded the US government. But the judge allowed them to amend and re-file the complaint within 15 days. Even before the ruling, government agencies had been distancing themselves from the suit.

The federal lawsuit, filed in Wichita by three former Boeing employees, alleges Los Angeles-based supplier Ducommun Inc falsified records and supplied defective and nonconforming parts that were later assembled into Boeing aircraft-- including more than 32 military aircraft sold to the United States, Japan, Italy and other nations.

The employees, all members of an internal audit team, further allege Boeing retaliated against them for voicing concern about their findings and filing the original 2002 case. The plaintiffs are Taylor Smith, who was laid off in October 2003; Jeannine Prewitt, who was laid off in November 2003; and James Ailes, who kept his Boeing job until he was hired at Spirit Aerosystems Inc when Boeing's commercial operations in Wichita were sold last year.

Prewitt declined to talk about the case. Ailes had an unlisted phone number, and no phone number could be found for Smith, who has since moved out of Wichita. Their attorneys declined to comment. "We do have strong company policy against retaliation in a situation like this. ... When the charges were brought, we looked into it and we don't believe there is any basis for the employees' charge of retaliations," Boeing spokesman Tim Neale said Tuesday. A nearly identical case first was filed under seal in 2002 through a different law firm. That initial case was voluntarily dismissed and the original complaint was unsealed when the new case, minus one plaintiff, was refiled in May 2005.

The U.S. attorney's office has declined to intervene, and investigations in 2002 by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Transportation into the first complaint found no cause for alarm. Ducommun did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday. Boeing spokeswoman Cindy Wall said the company stands by the integrity and safety of its airplanes. She said Boeing has multiple layers in place to inspect parts, and returns any that don't meet specifications to the suppliers.

FAA, which as a matter of routine opened another investigation with the latest court filing, cannot comment on the open investigation, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said. But while investigating the nearly identical earlier allegations, the agency found no wrongdoing by either Ducommun or Boeing and determined the planes were safe to fly.

"The parts involved in this case are not flight-critical," Brown said. "Even if the allegations the relators made are true, even if the parts failed, they wouldn't compromise the integrity of the aircraft."

David Barnes, spokesman for the Inspector General's Office of the Department of Transportation, which oversees FAA, said his agency and the Pentagon investigated the case and the US attorney's office declined to prosecute.

"The Justice Department feels there is not sufficient reason to go forward, and we satisfied ourselves the FAA acted appropriately in this matter," he said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Wichita refused to comment on why it declined to take the case. Spokesman Jim Cross said that doesn't mean the government is expressing an opinion on the lawsuit's merits, nor does it mean it's giving up its right to recover damages should the former employees win.