By Yehuda Ceitlin, Editor of COLlive.com
Sioux Falls, S.D. ? The man some call the ‘father of kosher meat in America’ gave Tuesday a rare glimpse into the rise and fall of the Agriprocessors Inc. kosher meat empire.
Abraham Aaron Rubashkin, who opened the Postville slaughterhouse in 1987, told jurors that he mortgaged his home, two buildings that he owned and his restaurant in Boro Park after the May 2008 immigration raid.
“I don’t want to describe what was there (following the raid),” the white-bearded 80 year-old said. “I’m sure the architects who made it have pictures.”
His efforts to save the company ultimately failed, as the plant run by his two sons, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin and Heshy Rubashkin slipped into bankruptcy the following November.
Rubashkin spoke on the stand during his son Sholom’s 91-count financial fraud trial in Sioux Falls, S.D. Sholom has pleaded not guilty.
Defense lawyers called the elder Rubashkin, a Lubavitcher Chossid who began his career decades ago processing meat in Paris after fleeing Russia, to contest the charges.
Rubashkin stirred whispers from Chassidim and bochurim in the public gallery as he entered the courtroom. The Rubashkin family patriarch was sworn in, and smiled and waved at jurors as he stepped to the witness stand.
“When we came to Postville, every street (had) 4-5 homes for sale; Stores were for rent,” Rubashkin said. “We bought a rundown plant; everything was rotten. We built a new water facility.”
He said he commuted to Brooklyn, NY, every week, while Sholom lived in Twin Cities, MN, and Heshy in Rochester.
Building a shul, mikvah and school to properly conduct Jewish-observant life was a necessary step. By the time of the raid, some 100 Jewish families lived in the Iowa town.
When asked what was Sholom’s job title when he began, Aaron Rubashkin simply replied: “Son.”
“We ran it like a family business,” he added, sometimes irking the U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade for lengthy statements not in answer to a specific question.
His son Yossi Rubashkin and son-in-law Sholom Minkowicz managed the sales in New York. His daughter did the same in Florida.
Following the raid, Aaron Rubashkin said he managed to gather between $4 million and $5 million from his personal assets. “We tried to get all the help we could,” he said.
He said he was unaware of any illegal immigrants working at the plant, and had trusted the plant?s human resources manager, Elizabeth Billmeyer before the raid that detained 389 illegal workers.
“I used to trust her. She is a very strong woman,” Aaron Rubashkin said. “I cannot understand how this happened.”
At the end of his confident testimony Tuesday morning, the prosecution said it did not wish to cross-examine Rubashkin in front of the jurors.
“Clearly they were afraid of the positive image he portrayed,” a supporter told COLlive.
“He practically said the banks left him hanging to dry as he struggled to find funds they had promised to lend him, and that every financial move was consulted with them.”
With reporting by Grant Schulte of The Des Moines Register