GRANT SCHULTE – Des Moines Register
The former manager of Postville’s kosher meat plant goes on trial this week.
Sholom Rubashkin will confront 91 fraud-related charges Tuesday in a trial that could effectively send him to prison for the rest of his life. The former executive at Agriprocessors Inc. will step into a Sioux Falls, S.D., federal courtroom with his wife, Leah, and their children for a legal struggle that could last four to six weeks.
Rubashkin has prepared for trial “intensely, but also with the peace of mind of a man who knows he will be, G-d willing, fully exonerated,” his son, Getzel Rubashkin, said in an e-mail. “He has been the source of strength and encouragement for those around him, instead of the other way around.”
The younger Rubashkin said his father has increased his involvement with the Yeshiva of Northeast Iowa, a Jewish high school, since his arrest last year. The family remains very close and has been overwhelmed by support from fellow Jews and other friends, Getzel Rubashkin said.
The trial comes more than a year after federal agents raided Agriprocessors and arrested 389 illegal immigrants. Rubashkin was indicted five months later and removed from the family-owned business that once was the nation’s largest supplier of kosher meat.
Prosecutors also have charged Rubashkin with 72 immigration-related charges for his alleged role in the scheme to hire illegal workers. The immigration trial is scheduled to begin one week after the bank fraud trial concludes.
Rubashkin has pleaded not guilty. He faces a maximum 1,995-year prison sentence if convicted of all 163 charges.
Three lower-level managers — Brent Beebe, Hosam Amara and Zeev Levi — also are named in the indictment with the plant itself. Amara and Levi remain at large; Beebe lives in Postville but will stand trial next year in Cedar Rapids.
Postville residents who helped immigrants in the raid’s aftermath said they plan to follow the trial online. Some expressed concern that Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis who perform kosher rituals at the plant might leave town if Rubashkin is convicted.
The trial’s outcome “will affect our community, especially the Jewish community, quite a lot,” said the Rev. Paul Ouderkirk, pastor at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church. “How much of an impact we feel, we don’t yet know.”
For years, Agriprocessors filled Postville with an unusual blend of New York rabbis, immigrant workers and longtime Iowans who produced “Aaron’s Best” kosher meats and products.
Agriprocessors filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2008. The plant was sold to SHF Industries, a new Iowa company headed by Montreal businessman Hershey Friedman.
Some of the charges against Rubashkin are unusual for a federal criminal case, legal scholars said. Prosecutors allege that Rubashkin violated a 2002 order by the U.S. secretary of agriculture to pay cattle providers within 24 hours of a sale.
The charge stems from a 1921 law, the U.S. Packers and Stockyards Act. The law requires “prompt payment” to protect livestock producers. Two scholars who studied the law said they had never seen it invoked in a criminal case.
“This is the first time in my life that I’ve heard of that,” said Chris Kelley, a University of Arkansas law school professor.
Prosecutors also will present evidence that Rubashkin ordered employees to create fake invoices so he could collect advances on a revolving $35 million bank loan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan Jr. wrote in court papers. Prosecutors argue that Rubashkin sent the false papers to First Bank Business Capital in St. Louis that overstated the value of the plant’s collateral.
Rubashkin was supposed to repay the bank with money from an “accounts receivable” fund, but he allegedly diverted the payments to keep the money.
“By diverting the payments, the defendant was, in effect, stealing the bank’s collateral and then lying to the bank about it,” Deegan wrote.
Defense lawyer Guy Cook of Des Moines has said his client denies all of the charges. Cook said he could not comment because of ethics rules, but he has suggested in court papers that others were responsible for routing the money.
The fraud and immigration trials were supposed to take place in Cedar Rapids. But U.S. District Judge Linda Reade moved the trial to Sioux Falls because of pretrial publicity that she said could influence potential jurors.
The high-profile case has turned contentious at times. Defense lawyers in September filed a motion to dismiss the charges, on grounds that prosecutors abused their power and used grand jury hearings to “lock in” statements by their witnesses.
Reade rejected the claim.
Reade also warned lawyers not to speak with the media during a recent hearing, because of defense statements that prosecutors said amounted to trying Rubashkin in the media.
Prosecutors also have revised their charges against Rubashkin seven times, which defense lawyers and legal experts say is unprecedented.
Getzel Rubashkin said he plans to attend the trial to support his father, a man who “was never too busy to help people whether he was at home, at the office, or on the road.
“Anyone who ‘knows’ my father from media reports does not know him at all,” he said. “The character portrayed was created out of whole cloth, as anyone who knows my father immediately recognizes. … My father is a kind man, dedicated to helping others, be it in the sphere of family, community (both Jewish and non-Jewish) or beyond.”
Agriprocessors case defendants
Agriprocessors Inc., located in the northeast Iowa town of Postville, was Allamakee County’s largest employer. The slaughterhouse reigned for years as the nation’s largest supplier of kosher meats, until a May 2008 immigration raid led to the arrests of 389 workers who were in the United States illegally.
The plant has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and has changed owners. But production has floundered. The new owner is SHF Industries, an Iowa company headed by Montreal, Quebec, businessman Hershey Friedman.
Agriprocessors Inc. was founded in 1987 by Abraham Aaron Rubashkin, a butcher and Orthodox Lubavitch Jew from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Sholom Rubashkin, the 49-year-old son of plant owner Abraham Aaron Rubashkin, oversaw the daily operations at Agriprocessors Inc. until shortly after the raid.
Rubashkin faces 163 federal charges, divided into two trials. The trial that starts this week will deal with allegations related to mail, wire and bank fraud, money laundering, and failing to pay livestock suppliers on time. The second trial will include conspiracy charges and allegations that he harbored illegal immigrants for profit.
Rubashkin lives with his wife and 10 children in Postville. The Iowa attorney general’s office also has charged him with violating state child labor laws.
Hosam Amara was a poultry manager at Agriprocessors Inc., but he fled from the United States shortly after the raid. He remains at large.
Prosecutors believe the 44-year-old is hiding in Israel, and they have tried to persuade him to return, according to court documents.
Amara allegedly incriminated himself and Rubashkin during two secretly taped conversations with federal agents in March.
Prosecutors have not disclosed his exact statements. In court papers, they conceded that there is “no possibility that Amara will voluntarily return to the United States,” and they acknowledged that finding and extraditing him would be difficult.
According to the 163-count federal indictment, Amara reported directly to Rubashkin and helped the immigrant workers secure fake work papers. He faces immigration and document fraud charges.
Brent Beebe, the plant’s beef manager, reported directly to Rubashkin and allegedly helped the illegal immigrant workers obtain false work papers.
The 52-year-old is scheduled to stand trial next January in Cedar Rapids. His trial was separated because his lawyer did not join the request to move the trial out of state because of pretrial publicity.
Prosecutors alleged that Beebe also aided Rubashkin’s attempt to cover up illegal workers by requiring them to reapply for jobs with newer, more convincing fake papers.
Beebe is charged with various forms of immigrant harboring and document fraud. He has not been charged with any of the financial crimes that make up the first trial.
Zeev Levi, a poultry manager, allegedly helped slaughterhouse workers obtain fake work papers. Levi fled from the Postville area shortly after the raid. He is at large.
Prosecutors allege that Levi, whose age is not known, conspired to hire illegal workers. He has not been charged with any of the financial crimes of Rubashkin’s first trial.