Nathaniel Popper – The Forward
The trial of former kosher slaughterhouse executive Sholom Rubashkin began in South Dakota on October 12, though only after a failed effort to reach a plea bargain, according to a close confidant of the defendant.
Rabbi Shea Hecht, a leading Chabad Lubavitch rabbi who has provided support to Rubashkin’s defense, told the Forward that Rubashkin, 49, wanted to strike a plea bargain with the U.S. attorneys to avoid a jury trial.
“There were negotiations — an offer was put on the table,” Hecht said. “He had to refuse the offer because compared to what he did wrong, they were asking for too much. There was no way that a man should give the prime of his life away.”
Hecht would not discuss the terms that Rubashkin would have accepted — but he did say that Rubashkin was willing to serve a prison term in order to strike a bargain. Hecht met with Rubashkin in person when the court gave Rubashkin permission to visit New York for the Jewish high holidays. Rubashkin has otherwise been out on bail in Iowa. Hecht said that when Rubashkin visited Hecht’s New York office, he expressed a desire to deal with the charges.
“He said, ‘Listen, things were done wrong, but not what they are claiming,’” Hecht said. “He was very confident.”
The United States attorney’s office that is prosecuting Rubashkin would not say whether a plea bargain had been discussed.
A lawyer for Rubashkin, Guy Cook, also would not comment. Rubashkin has pleaded not guilty to all 163 counts.
Rubashkin and his family are members of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect, and the family has received hefty support from other members of the sect in advance of the trial. The day before the trial began, dozens of children gathered at the last Chabad rebbe’s grave to pray “for a miraculous victory” for Rubashkin, according to a colorful poster for the event.
Earlier in the day, a bus load of Rubashkin’s supporters left from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and drove overnight to Sioux Falls. A woman who answered the phone at the number printed on an advertisement for the bus ride would not provide her name. She said that the funding for the trip came from private sources.
“It was a grassroots effort to pack the courtroom with supporters — and hopefully we’ll pull it off,” she said. “We’ll be able to show the court that this man is being charged incorrectly — and he really is what they call a tzaddik,” or holy man.
On October 13, as the trial began, The Des Moines Register reported that the court facilities were inundated with young supporters of Rubashkin. Rubashkin’s nephew, Yossi, told the paper: “I’m extremely optimistic about the trial. That might not make sense to you. It’s just faith. Faith in God.”
Rubashkin has also received significant financial support from a committee formed by the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, a Chabad organization that helps imprisoned Chabadniks. Hecht is chairman of the NCFJE, and he said that the group had already given funding “in the six figures” to help Rubashkin’s case. Hecht’s brother, Sholem Ber Hecht, is leading the committee dedicated to Rubashkin’s case.
“The community sees it as an attack, number one, on kosher food, and number two, as an attack on religious Jews,” Shea Hecht said.