Rubashkin plans appeal, but another trial looms

Appeal by Shalom Rubashkin, above, will center on the judge's decision to admit evidence having to do with his alleged employment of illegal immigrants, according to his attorney. (Guy Cook)

Appeal by Shalom Rubashkin, above, will center on the judge’s decision to admit evidence having to do with his alleged employment of illegal immigrants, according to his attorney. (Guy Cook)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Facing a prison sentence of up to 1,250 years following his conviction last week on 86 of 91 fraud charges, Sholom Rubashkin is hoping his exoneration will come on appeal.

But U.S. prosecutors are looking forward to the next trial for Rubashkin, the former vice president of Agriprocessors when it was the nation’s largest kosher meat plant.

The trial, for 72 immigration violations, is scheduled to begin Dec. 2.

Rubashkin’s immediate concern is whether he will be released on bail pending the trial. Prosecutors say he is a flight risk, but defense lawyers filed papers contending  he is not.

Their client, the lawyers say, “remains steadfastly committed to his community both in Postville, Ia., and the larger religious Jewish community.”

The bail hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

After a three-week trial in Sioux Falls, S.D., Rubashkin, 50, was convicted last week of bank, wire and mail fraud, money laundering and ignoring an order to pay livestock providers in the time provided by law. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

Rubashkin attorney Guy Cook told the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier that the appeal would center around the judge’s decision to admit evidence having to do with Rubashkin’s alleged employment of illegal immigrants. The judge had split the immigration and fraud charges into two separate trials.

"It has the effect of allowing the jury to convict on one crime based on the evidence of another," Cook told the Courier. "Dirty him up and it’s easier to find criminal intent."

The charges against Rubashkin stem from a May 2008 immigration raid on Agriprocessors’ plant in Postville, Iowa, which found hundreds of immigration violations and forced the plant into bankruptcy.

During the trial, which was moved to South Dakota out of concern that media coverage had tainted the jury pool in Iowa, the former chief financial officer of the company, Mitch Meltzer, testified that he and four other employees were sometimes paid their salaries in cash to avoid taxes.

Meltzer also said he created false invoices called “tootsies” to demonstrate to the bank, which had extended Agriprocessors a revolving $35 million line of credit, that money was still coming into the company.

Officials of companies that dealt with Agriprocessors testified that their records did not match Agriprocessors’ billing invoices. Witnesses also said that Rubashkin had directed customer payments into the wrong bank accounts and used the money to pay for personal expenses.

On the stand, Rubashkin admitted he made mistakes but said he never intentionally violated the law.

“I’m a human being,” he said, according to media reports. “I took the information people gave me and sort of went with it without really drilling down to see if it was real or not.”

Rubashkin also testified that he never read the $35 million line of credit agreement before signing it.

He compared himself to a “pioneer of the West,” helping build a strong Chabad-Lubavitch community in Postville.

“In the beginning it was quite a task to get one or two people to come there, and someone to teach,” he said.

Rubashkin was offered a plea deal before the trial, but the Des Moines Register reported that Rubashkin told friends he rejected it because he is innocent and had committed no crime.

The Conservative movement’s Hekhsher Tzedek Commission, which has been working to create an ethnical kashrut seal, said the verdict “delivers both justice and a heavy heart,” noting that the trial on charges of worker mistreatment has not even begun.

The commission’s director, Rabbi Morris Allen, said in a statement that two years before the raid the commission had attempted to “steer the Rubashkin family towards taking responsibility and correcting their mistakes,” but the Rubashkin family turned a “deaf ear” toward such calls and showed a “flagrant disregard for the law and ethical behavior.

“There is neither joy nor a sense of schadenfraude in yesterday’s conviction,” the commission said in a statement a day after the convictions. “Those of us who toil in the field of tikkun olam are downright demoralized by this highly preventable outcome.”

One revelation at the trial that could have implications for next month’s immigration trial was that the Agriprocessors plant twice rejected the employment application of a federal informant because of fraudulent work documents. He was hired the third time he applied after he brought legitimate papers.

NEXT STORY