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First Rubashkin trial ends with 86 guilty verdicts
A jury in Sioux Falls, S.D., returned to the courtroom late Thursday afternoon and delivered judgment on former Agriprocessors manager Sholom M. Rubashkin: Guilty on 86 of 91 possible counts.
Rubashkin, who is the 50-year-old son of Agriprocessors founder and president A. Aaron Rubashkin, was convicted of all possible money laundering and mail, wire and bank fraud charges. He was also convicted on 15 out of 20 counts of failing to provide timely pay to livestock auctions and providers.
The verdict followed nearly a month of testimony and evidence in which the government sought to paint Rubashkin as one, if not the, mastermind in a plot to defraud creditors. The defense team, in contrast, chose to portray Rubashkin as inexperienced, naive and unprepared to serve as day-to-day manager for such a large undertaking as the kosher meatpacking plant in Postville.
Following the lengthy reading of the verdict, Rubashkin was taken into federal custody, and his defense attorney, Guy Cook, pledged to appeal. Rubashkin is expected to return to eastern Iowa next week for sentencing and a possible bail hearing pending appeal. He faces a maximum sentence of more than 1,000 years in prison for the guilty verdicts.
An early December trial has been slated for an additional 72 federal immigration-related charges against Rubashkin, and he also faces a trial in state court this spring for possible child labor law violations.
All of the charges stem back to a massive May 12, 2008 immigration raid at the Postville facility. More than 300 immigrant workers detained by federal authorities pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to identity theft within days of their apprehension, and the bulk have been deported after serving brief federal prison sentences. Some immigrant workers, however, continue to live in and around Postville and are expected to be called by the prosecution in the upcoming trial.
The road between the actual raid and the federal trial in Sioux Falls, S.D., was long and has often wound its way through traditionally uncomfortable conversations for Americans regarding immigration, civil rights, religious expression and the composition and worth of charity.
The Rubashkin family, all ultra-orthodox Jews affiliated with the Hasidic Chabad Lubavitch movement, have at times suggested that the charges against them stem not from any alleged illegal activity, but from anti-Semitism. Throughout the investigation, and especially following the initial arrest and jailing of Sholom Rubashkin, many of the Jewish religious faithful, either through their own conscience or through the prodding and help of Chabad, have defended the Rubashkins from wrongdoing and stood as character witnesses for the family’s contributions.
Both inside and outside of Jewish circles, however, the Rubashkins have drawn criticism, many believing that generosity was born of ill-gotten-gains, harvested on the back of an underpaid and often mistreated immigrant workforce. Media reports, which prompted the move of the trials from Iowa to South Dakota, have given supposed victims of child labor and sexual harassment at the Postville plant a voice.
The company known as Agriprocessors fell into bankruptcy last year, and has re-emerged as AgriStar under the new ownership of SHF Industries, a venture of Canadian businessman Hershey Friedman. Heshy Rubaskin, brother to Sholom and son of Aaron, continues to work at the reborn business.
At least six former members of plant management or the human resources department have pleaded guilty in the wake of the 2008 immigration raid:
April 13, 2009 — Elizabeth Billmeyer, 48 and the former human resources manager, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens for profit and one count of knowingly accepting false resident alien cards.
March 19, 2009 — Penny Ann Hanson, 41 and a former human resources employee, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make false statements on immigration documents.
Dec. 10, 2008 — Karina Pilar Freund, 29 and a former human resources employee, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of aiding and abetting a pattern or practice of hiring undocumented aliens.
Oct. 29, 2008 — Laura Althouse, 38 and a former human resources employee, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Aug. 27, 2008 — Martin De La Rosa-Loera, 43 and a former plant supervisor, pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting the harboring of undocumented aliens.
Aug. 20, 2008 — Juan Carlos Guerrero-Espinoza, 35 and a former plant supervisor, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to hire illegal aliens and one count of aiding and abetting the hiring of illegal aliens.
Former plant operations manager Brent Beebe, 51, will soon be tried on immigration-related charges in federal court. Two additional plant managers — Hosam Amara and Zeev Levi — also face criminal charges, but have yet to be apprehended by authorities.