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Jews Worry as Slaughterhouse Chief Faces Jail Time

(RNS) As Sholom Rubashkin sits in an Iowa jail awaiting a possible life sentence on fraud charges related to his now-defunct kosher meat business, his ultra-Orthodox Jewish support base has ramped up protests over his case.
Through an online petition, media outreach, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, some rabbis have called it a “sacred obligation” for Jews to contact the Justice Department before Rubashkin’s April 28 sentencing.
While their grassroots efforts stop short of claiming anti-Semitism against the former CEO of Agriprocessors — the Postville, Iowa plant where a 2008 government raid found hundreds of undocumented workers — they believe some discrimination has occurred.
The now infamous raid led to a financial investigation and Rubashkin’s conviction last November on 86 counts of money laundering and mail, wire and bank fraud charges. Prosecutors later dropped the immigrant labor charges; Rubashkin and several former Agriprocessors managers still face misdemeanor state charges of child labor violations.
“He looks different, and he’s being treated differently,” argues Rabbi Menachem M. Katz, of the Aleph Institute, a nonprofit organization that serves Jewish inmates. “No one called him a dirty Jew or painted a swastika anywhere, but he’s an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jew dealing with the justice system in a place that doesn’t have Jews, in a jury pool that doesn’t have Jews, in a state with very, very few Jewish residents.”
The Justice for Sholom Web site lists eight major complaints, ranging from how the government conducted the raid to the denial of Rubashkin’s request to spend Passover under house arrest while awaiting sentencing.
Last year, the wider Jewish community rallied to help overturn an initial denial of bail when prosecutors feared Rubashkin would flee to Israel and attempt to claim citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return.
Now that the 51-year-old father of 10 faces a possible life sentence, a range of Jewish organizations and religious freedom advocates are paying close attention again, particularly since such a harsh penalty would make Rubashkin ineligible for a correctional facility that can accommodate Hasidic Jews.
Out of about 250,000 federal inmates, fewer than 3,000 are observant Jews; only a few dozen are ultra-Orthodox adherents, Katz said. Most go to Otisville, N.Y., or Fort Dix, N.J., where the facilities can handle their special diets, group prayers and other religious needs. Those facilities, however, do not accept prisoners with long sentences.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is monitoring the case, said Eric Rassbach, the organization’s national litigation director. Federal prisons tend to be more accommodating of religiously observant inmates than state and county facilities, and should be able to at least provide kosher food and allow him to maintain his traditional appearance, he said.
With the exception of the outcry over the idea that Jews pose a unique flight risk to Israel — which has an extradition treaty with the U.S. — fellow Jews are not uniformly united behind Rubashkin, however.
Non-Orthodox Jews have been among his strongest critics, including religious leaders and organizations that had repeatedly raised concerns about Agriprocessors’ treatment of workers.
“Based on Jewish values, what was alleged to have occurred at Agriprocessors was disturbing to many Jews,” said Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. “It is crucially important that the trial be conducted fairly, not benefiting him or treating him worse because of his Jewish faith. The same goes for the kosher meat industry.”
Rabbi Morris Allen, a Conservative Jew whose efforts to create an ethical kosher standard grew out of the Agriprocessors case, believes Rubashkin has received fair — and perhaps even better — treatment compared to other white-collar criminals.
Rubashkin’s trial was moved from Iowa to South Dakota to address concerns about a fair jury pool; he was permitted to travel to New York for Jewish holidays; he was offered a plea deal; and has enjoyed steadfast financial and emotional support from his community throughout the trial, Allen said.
And while a life sentence may seem extreme for inflating the value of his company to secure a $35 million line of credit, sentences have increased for fraud cases in recent years, as investors and taxpayers demand greater accountability from the business world, said Peter J.
Henning, a white-collar crime expert and professor at Wayne State University Law School.
Given that Rubashkin’s losses pale in comparison to higher-profile cases like the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, Henning said Rubashkin’s punishment will probably fall somewhere between the prosecutions’ life sentence recommendation and the 72 months his attorneys have requested.
Bringing up Rubashkin’s large family, charitable contributions and community ties could help sway the judge, Henning added, but cautioned that the vocal “Justice for Sholom” campaign may also be hurting his cause.
“He and his supporters don’t seem very contrite, which doesn’t play very well with judges,” Henning said. “It’s like a negotiation, and when each side is yelling and screaming at the other, it’s not very helpful to the court. But, I’ll be surprised if he gets more than 15 years for this.”

Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

  • Greg

    I’ve been following this case very closely. The request for such an extreme sentence is unheard of in this type of case. Anything more than a year or two would be way out of proportion.
    Prosecutors are sometimes drunk with power, want to make a name for themselves and seek outrageous sentences. If what this man did was against the law, punishing him with a LIFE sentence, when a year or two is all that is necessary to deter and punish, is immoral and against the very intent and spirit of our justice system.

  • nnmns

    “conviction last November on 86 counts of money laundering and mail, wire and bank fraud charges”
    It sounds serious to me and people, including Jews, say he’s received fair treatment. And what reason is there to believe a slap on the wrist would deter him?
    I don’t know what the norm is for a big batch of crimes like those but he should get what other people would get.

  • John

    Its really unfair what they are doing to him. Its anti semitism to the max.

  • nnmns


  • Elle

    … so this guy commits child labour violations; diverts customer payments into the wrong bank account when the money should have gone directly to lender and uses the money for personal expenses; commits fraud alongside money laundering in addition to employing illegal immigrants and child labourers… and Jews want him to serve a year in jail because he is Jewsih and should be exempt from prosecution…?
    No one twirls chickens like a Jew that is for sure

  • Greg

    As I said I’ve been following this case.
    Those many charges are really one crime that has been spliced, diced and multiplied in order to create a huge number of charges.
    In short, the man managed a huge meat packing factory that was raided for employing undecumented workers. When the company was reeling under all the bad press and the sudden shortage of workers (and vicious boycott campaigns organized a host of self interested parties, including an open war waged by the Unions), the manager struggeling to keep his line of credit open to keep the company afloat, diverted funds and post dated invoices to apparenyly give the appearance of better cash flow. There was no intention to defraud or personally benefit, it was just to keep the ship afloat until they can get back on solid footing. This point has even been acknowledged by the prosecution. But because of all the hype, the various agenda driven parties, a political decision was taken to throw everything and the kitchen sink at him.
    So to sum up. There were some financial improprieties commited under tremendous duress. this type of white collar first time offense is never punished with more than a year or so. Thus the huge outcry.
    Life in prison would be a gross travesty of the highest proportions.

  • nnmns

    I don’t look at child labor violations as a white collar crime. A lot of people don’t look at hiring illegal immigrants as a white collar crime.
    You might want to take a look at the a href=”” target=”_blank”>Wikipedia article on the guy.

    Sholom Rubashkin is the former CEO of the Glatt kosher Agriprocessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. Rubashkin took over from his father Aaron Rubashkin, who founded the plant in 1987. Sholom resigned shortly after federal agents raided Agriprocessors in May 2008. The raid resulted in the arrests and deportations of about 270 mostly Guatemalan undocumented workers.

    Rubashkin was arrested again on November 13, 2008 at his Postville home on Federal charges of bank fraud. These new charges were due to the fact that under his direction millions of dollars that were supposed to be deposited in an account as collateral for a loan were fraudently diverted to another account, and were used to fraudulently increase the value of Agriprocessors accounts receivable. After the money was diverted Rubashkin ordered the records of these transactions removed from company computers. Rubashkin now faces up to 30 years in prison on these new charges.

    Rubashkin was convicted in November 2009 on 86 charges of financial fraud, including bank fraud, mail and wire fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors had claimed the company intentionally defrauded St. Louis-based First Bank on a revolving $35 million loan by faking invoices from meat dealers, inflating the value of the company.

    On Novermber 23, 2009 Rubashkin’s second trial on 72 immigration charges was canceled following the government’s request to dismiss. In its motion to dismiss, the U.S. Attorneys Office said any conviction on the immigration charges would have no impact upon his sentence, writing, “dismissal will avoid an extended and expensive trial, conserve limited resources, and lessen the inconvenience to witnesses.”

    So Greg I think you might want to learn a little more about this guy before you go out on a limb like that defending him.

  • bgreen

    I would hope the judge uses some common sense and does not listen to the unjust recommendation of the prosecutors. The crimes for which Mr. Rubashkin was convicted of does in now way justify a life sentence or even close.

  • Greg

    Thanks for the reference, but Wikipedia is no match for reading court reports, which I have done.
    You referred to “child labor violations” and “hiring illegal immigrants.” You seem to be misinformed here. The trial and sentencing were *not* about “child labor violations” or hiring illegals. In fact, the charges about illegals were comletely dropped a while back, and the allegations about “child labor” are coming up in another trial, where it remains to be seen what the true story is.
    The way I understand it, among the 1,000 or so workers at the plant, some of the illegals who had gotten hired by producing forged documents were under 18. Now considering they had produced false documents to get hired in the first place, how can the plant be blamed for hiring someone who was under 18? If a 17 yr old buys beer at Walmart using a fake license, who is held accountable, the 17 yr old with the forged license or the cashier?
    So it very much is a “white collar” issue. Historically, this type of conviction does not get more than a year or two. Look it up.

  • nnmns

    The issue of illegal immigrants is addressed in the Wikipedia article and in what I quoted. I don’t have the motivation you apparently do to read court “reports” but I figure Wikipedia is fairly objective because of the different sides trying to influence it.
    As I said, I hope he gets a sentence appropriate to what he did, whatever that may be.

  • Kev

    I hope he gets a sentence appropriate to what he did, 1 year MAX

  • nnmns

    Well one year sounds pretty small for something involving all those crimes, to me.

  • Greg

    I took a 2nd look at your quote from Wikipedia and you are right, it is pretty factual, indeed, there is nothing there that contradicts what I have written. So I guess it was your take on it which I disagreed with.
    My motivation for reading up on this case stems from the fact that I like to try to behave as a principled and moral person. When these news stories caught my attention a while back, they were very disturbing and that moved me to look more into it.
    What I found made me come to the conclusion that most of the storm surrounding this case was generated hype. Did you know, for example, that when ICE raided the plant to arrest undocumented immigrants that they had a search warrant which claimed there were possible “bombs” and “weapons caches” and “meth labs” at the plant?! Of course none of that ever turned out to have a shred of truth to it (notice their absence from any legal proceedings – or even media stories today). This was a *meat processing* plant. This is just to illustrate the wild allegations that were being made at that time, and which helped fuel a media frenzy, (agenda-driven) boycotts, etc.
    Coming out of such a hostile atmosphere, you could understand how the prosecution can get carried away and feel that they can ask for the most absurd sentence and hope to get it. They are riding on all the hype which was mostly fueled by absurd allegations which of course were never substantiated in any way.
    So bottom line, our fellow citizen with the same human rights as ourseles, should be sentenced based on what he was convicted of and not hype. If I were ever in such a position I would want a fair sentence, and I’m sure you would too. It is really not too much to ask for.

  • nnmns

    It sounds almost like he got confused with a Muslim. They face fear-based attacks like you describe. And I agree it should be a fair sentence but unless his crimes are a lot less than in the Wikipedia article I don’t see a year as being adequate. And quite possibly life would indeed be excessive.

  • Ima

    Allen cannot be considered a Rabbi because he wish wrongly against his fellow Jew. We cannot put up with his unethical Judaism. Allen is a shame to all Rabbis and the Minnesota community.

  • nnmns

    Wow, so a Rabbi can’t want justice? Interesting.

  • izzy

    Mr. Rubashkin is a non-violent first time offender, who made timely interest payments to the lender bank until his plant was raided and who did not intend to cause loss to the bank. All the immigration charges were dropped, and the only other charge unrelated to bank fraud was that his payment to cattle owners occasionally came late.
    The life-sentence recommendation disregards entirely Mr. Rubashkin’s exceptional record of charity and good deeds and that he is is the father of ten children, including a severely autistic 16-year-old son, all of whom depend on him greatly.
    In their sentencing memorandum, Mr. Rubashkin’s defense counsel pointed out, that in a recent bank-fraud case in St. Louis involving a similar loss to the same bank (US v. Mark Turkcan), the imposed sentence was one year and a day.

  • pagansister

    That man committed a crime…several apparently. He should be punished for that. When he committed the crimes he knew what he was doing, and apparently didn’t consider what whould happen to his 10 kids if he got caught.

  • Greg

    Dear Sis,
    No one is arguing for someone not to “do the time for the crime”. But the key word here is “for the crime”. We punish in this country when someone commits a crime, but every crime has an *equitable* punishment.
    When a punishment is extreme and not commensurate with the crime, then that in and of itself becomes an injustice.
    For example, when California passed the knee-jerk law “three strikes and your out” – that was pretty stupid (albeit well intentioned) and bound to be unfair.
    We don’t just give out Life Sentences in this country. They are reserved for the most heinous crimes. This was not one of them, not by a long shot.

  • pagansister

    Greg, maybe not life bur certainly more than 6 years! (as recommended by his lawyer).

  • Jaime

    He should not be locked up because the diet does not appeal to him?


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