The Rubashkin trial: Jury selection, his successor speaks


Tuesday marked the start of jury selection in the federal fraud trial of Sholom Rubashkin, the former manager of the Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. Rubashkin, who insists he is innocent, is facing 91 charges related to allegations of laundering $1 million and the creation of fake sales records; he is also looking at second trial connected to 72 immigration-related charges.

In USA Today, Grant Schulte of the Des Moines Register reports that Rubashkin has plenty of support at the courthouse:

Supporters of the top executive of a meat packing plant that was the scene of the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history flooded a South Dakota federal courthouse today to pray for the man they described as generous and warm-hearted.

Scores of Chabad-Lubavitch Jews crowded into the Sioux Falls courthouse with psalm books and whispered prayers, to stand by Sholom Rubashkin, the ousted top executive at Agriprocessors, Inc.

The Associated Press reports that with the selection of the jury, opening statements are expected Wednsday.

Meanwhile, back in Postville, the plant is now called Agri Star, and its new owner, Hershey Friedman, is promising changes. On Tuesday, he spoke with the Des Moines Register:

The new leader of the former Agriprocessors meatpacking plant is promising a different way of doing business than his controversial predecessors practiced.

Hershey Friedman said the plant, now called Agri Star, no longer will be known as a place where illegal immigrants work in unsafe conditions for low wages. He said his managers are using tight controls to ensure that all workers are legal, and the company has improved safety training and raised wages for production workers.

Friedman, 59, spoke in an interview Tuesday morning at the plant, which has been the subject of nationwide scrutiny since federal agents raided it in May 2008 and arrested hundreds of immigrant workers who were in the country illegally. …

Several workers, interviewed away from the plant, confirmed that conditions have improved. They said that their pay has increased, from as little as $6.25 an hour to as much as $11 an hour, and that they are no longer being cheated out of hours they worked.

Also, the workers said, supervisors are taking more care to train employees on safety issues, and they’ve slowed down the production line. …

The non-Jewish workers might be happier, but the story suggests that the Orthodox holdovers have not necessarily warmed to Friedman — who is not a Lubavitcher — in part because he is providing less support to the local Jewish day school than the Rubashkins did.

Friedman acknowledged that he is not subsidizing the school as heavily as his predecessor did. He said that the school should be independent of the plant and that its families should be able to pay reasonable tuition. He said the previous plant owners treated Postville as a "company town," in which they controlled real estate, the Jewish school, the synagogue and other institutions. He does not intend to continue the practice.

Friedman said he would support numerous community causes, not just those that help Jews. "A human being is a human being," he said.

Read the full story.

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