A P.R. Nightmare


A large New York public relations company that represents Agriprocessors, the embattled giant kosher slaughterhouse, could use some positive p.r. of its own this week.

5W Public Relations, which also represents Pastor John Hagee and several right-wing Israeli groups, gained unwanted notoriety for itself with its admission that it posted fraudulent messages on the Internet to promote Agriprocessors.

In a statement, Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5W Public Relations, admitted that a “senior staff member” wrote the bogus messages and that steps were taken to “ensure this cannot happen again.” He declined to be interviewed.

The senior staff member who handled the Agriprocessors account is Juda Engelmayer, from whose apartment fake e-mails were sent, according to reports. He did not return phone calls.

One of the messages was written in the name of Rabbi Morris Allen of Minnesota, director of the Conservative movement’s new Heksher Tzedek commission, which seeks to create an ethical certification process for kosher food. Rabbi Allen, who was critical of working conditions at Agriprocessors, was quoted in one of the messages as saying that efforts to see changes made at Agriprocessors is a “cause” that drives the commission.

Agriprocessors was raided by federal authorities on May 12. A total of 389 of its workers were detained for immigration violations; 300 of them were charged with criminal violations.

Rabbi Allen said in an interview that he did not write the message and that he was told that other bogus messages were posted on at least two other Web sites.

“It’s unconscionable that people think the way to address a problem is to steal someone’s identity and to defame people and speak ill of people,” Rabbi Allen said. “I want a formal public apology and for them to cease and desist their attack on Conservative Jews [with their argument] that we don’t care about kosher food,” he added.

The commission’s lawyer, Stephen Durchslag of Chicago, said misrepresenting his client and making fraudulent representations to the public is something “we consider very serious.”

He said his firm had not decided whether criminal laws were broken or whether this matter should be referred to state or federal authorities. In the meantime, Durchslag said “a letter will go out shortly [to Torossian] asking the motivation” behind the fraudulent messages.

“I don’t have a clear idea of what their position is,” he said. “We are asking for a retraction, for them to reveal who sent the messages, where they were sent and for how long.”

The bogus messages were brought to light through a blog, FailedMessiah.com, and The Forward.

Torossian, a former student activist for Jewish causes, has a reputation in the field for being aggressive in his practices.

At press time, Agriprocessors said they were still being represented by the 5W firm.