Boeing is moving to negotiate a comprehensive settlement to lengthy federal ethics investigations into actions it took to win U.S. defense contracts in recent...

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CHICAGO — Boeing is moving to negotiate a comprehensive settlement to lengthy federal ethics investigations into actions it took to win U.S. defense contracts in recent years, a published report said yesterday.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified sources, reported that the company has hired a high-powered outside legal team to prepare for negotiations as the Air Force draws up preliminary settlement amounts that range as high as $700 million.

Boeing declined to comment.

“We really can’t discuss it at all,” said Dan Beck, a spokesman for the Chicago-based aerospace company. “We have a legal team and an external counsel that are assisting in navigating through the complexities of these issues.”

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The Air Force press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment yesterday.

The Journal said Boeing has retained former Virginia attorney general and veteran white-collar defense lawyer Richard Cullen, a prominent Republican, and Jamie Gorelick, a former high-ranking Justice Department official under President Clinton.

It said they have been authorized to reach an all-inclusive criminal and civil agreement in the next few months, although the company at this point has not admitted wrongdoing or agreed to pay any penalties.

Boeing has been barred by the Air Force since July 2003 from bidding on new government rocket business, a consequence of its having been found in possession of proprietary documents belonging to rival Lockheed Martin.

Separately, investigators have been looking into Boeing contracts linked to former Air Force procurement official Darleen Druyun, who admitted giving the company special treatment before it hired her in January 2003. Druyun subsequently was fired by Boeing and is serving a nine-month prison sentence for conspiracy.

Michael Sears, the former Boeing chief financial officer who was implicated in the Druyun hiring, pleaded guilty in November to aiding and abetting illegal employment negotiations. He is to be sentenced Feb. 18 in federal court in Alexandria, Va.