Kosher meat boss is jailed for 27 years

By Paul Berger, June 24, 2010
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The former manager of America's largest kosher slaughterhouse has been jailed for 27 years.

The sentencing of Sholom Rubashkin, a strictly Orthodox Jew, was always going to be controversial. But the severity of the prison term came as a shock to supporters.

Calling the sentence, "unfair, unjust, and excessive", Rubashkin's attorney Guy Cook said he would appeal.

"Twenty-seven years for a 51-year-old man is a life sentence," said Mr Cook. "A life sentence for a first time, white collar offender is beyond the pale."

5,000 people rallied for Rubashkin

Rubashkin, a former vice-president of Iowa-based Agriprocessors Inc, was convicted of dozens of counts of fraud in November. The court heard how Rubashkin directed employees to falsify accounts and personally forged documents, bills and computer records to keep open a $35 million (£23.5 million) line of credit from local banks.

The scheme imploded following an immigration raid in May 2008. Almost 400 illegal workers, some underage, were arrested. Agriprocessors later filed for bankruptcy, causing lenders to lose $26 million, according to Iowa Judge Linda Reade's written court ruling. Last month, federal prosecutors asked Judge Reade to impose a 25-year sentence on Rubashkin.

The demand drew strong criticism from Rubashkin's supporters. They were bolstered by a letter from six prominent American lawyers protesting what they saw as an excessive term.

However, in her ruling, read to the Iowa court on Tuesday, Judge Reade said an appropriate sentence for Rubashkin's crimes based upon federal guidelines was between 27 years and 34 years. She imposed 27 years, adding five years' probation and ordering Rubashkin to pay $26 million to banks and $3,800 to a cattle supplier.

Rubashkin is still viewed by many in the Orthodox community as innocent.

Earlier this month, he was acquitted of child labour charges in a separate trial. In that case, the prosecution showed that child labour was prevalent at Agriprocessors but failed to prove that Rubashkin knowingly employed underage workers.

A rally on Monday in Brooklyn attracted 5,000 people. Speakers included Getzel Rubashkin, one of the accused's 10 children. The following night, Rabbi Menachem Katz, head of prisoner outreach at the Orthodox Aleph Institute and a longtime Rubashkin supporter, said the 27-year sentence was, "like the rest of the case, totally out of proportion".

But Assistant US Attorney Bob Teig said the sentence reflected the "egregious nature of Rubashkin's conduct".

In addition to fraud and money laundering, the court heard how Rubashkin loaned workers money to pay for fake IDs and diverted about $1.5 million of Agriprocessors' money into his personal bank accounts.

Said Mr Teig: "He earned every bit of his sentence."

    Last updated: 3:33pm, June 24 2010