Trial of kosher meat plant owner opens

By Paul Berger, October 15, 2009
Follow The JC on Twitter
Shlomo Rubashkin and his wife enter court. He faces almost 170 charges

Shlomo Rubashkin and his wife enter court. He faces almost 170 charges

The former CEO of America’s largest kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant went on trial this week.

Shlomo Rubashkin, formerly of Agriprocessors, Inc, faces almost 100 charges relating to falsifying financial papers in order to secure advances on a $35 million loan.

In a separate trial, due to begin after the close of this one, he faces 72 charges relating to immigration violations.

If convicted, Mr Rubashkin, 49, could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Agriprocessors, in Postville, Iowa, was the scene last May of the largest immigration raid in American history.

More than 300 workers, mostly Guatemalan and Mexican, were rounded up by the US Department of Homeland Security’s immigration arm and put into detention camps.

Many accused the plant of paying low wages and of unsavoury working conditions before they were deported.

Shmuly Yanklowitz, of the Orthodox social justice group Uri L’Tzedek, said that the allegations sure to come out during the course of the two trials would become “infamous as a low point for certain segments of the Jewish community”.

Agriprocessors went bankrupt following the raid.

It was rescued by Hershey Friedman, a Canadian whose company, SHF industries, bought the firm for $8.5 million. Mr Friedman has vowed to hire local residents and to improve working conditions.

The scale of the raid sparked a blaze of such negative media publicity that Mr Rubashkin’s trial had to be moved out of Iowa to Sioux Falls, in neighbouring South Dakota.

Rabbi Pinchas Lipschitz, editor and publisher of the largest Charedi weekly newspaper in the United States, Yated Neeman, said Mr Rubashkin had been scapegoated.

“I expect him to be vindicated,” he said.

Vilified in the press, Mr Rubashkin remains a hero to some in the Jewish community, particularly in Postville, where he supported Jewish charities and schools.

Scores of Mr Rubashkin’s Chabad-Lubavitch supporters attended the courthouse for the first day of the trial on Tuesday clutching psalm books and praying, according to the Des Moines Register. Some had travelled on a bus from New York, about 1,200 miles away.

Mr Rubashkin sat in the courtroom with his wife and 10 children behind him, said the paper.

Over the coming weeks, he will face charges of bank fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud.

A number of Agriprocessors employees have already pleaded guilty.

Last month, the firm’s former chief financial officer, Mitchel Meltzer, admitted making false statements to a bank so that the firm could secure the $35 million loan. He faces a possible five-year prison term.

One month earlier, Yomtov Bensasson, another former financial employee, pleaded guilty to the same charges.

The trial continues and is expected to last up to six weeks.

Mr Rubashkin denies all charges. His lawyer did not return calls and emails for comment.

    Last updated: 4:54pm, October 15 2009