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Agriprocessors official who sold used cars and favors has fled the country, residents say
A former supervisor at the Postville meatpacking plant raided by federal agents last month has fled the country, Iowa Independent has learned.
The supervisor, Hasom Amara, sometimes required workers to buy illicitly registered cars as a condition of work, three former workers have told the Iowa Independent. Their stories corroborate allegations first made by a federal immigration agent in the search warrant obtained for the May 12 raid at the Agriprocessors Inc. facility in which 389 workers were detained.
Such activities may have broken the law, immigration agent David Hoagland stated in a sworn affidavit in support of the search warrant used in the raid.
“There is probable cause to believe an Agriprocessors supervisor has assisted, for a cut of the proceeds, illegal aliens in obtaining false documentation in relation to purchasing vehicle, and thereby has aided in the harboring of illegal aliens,” Hoagland said.
The supervisor was identified only as “C” in the search warrant affidavit. In separate interviews, the three workers identified Amara, a 44-year-old supervisor at Agriprocessors, as the chief car salesman.
Amara left the United States and is now in Israel, according to five people in Postville who know him or his wife. These sources also confirmed that Amara’s wife did not travel immediately to Israel with her husband, but remained in Iowa to pack the family’s belongings. The sources asked their names not be published, citing a fear of retaliation from Agriprocessors.
The Postville plant, owned and operated by the Rubashkin family, is one the leading manufacturers of kosher food in the country. Members of the Rubashkin family have donated more than $120,000 to the Iowa Republican Party and Republican office holders in recent years and a smaller amount to Democratic Gov. Chet Culver and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat whose district includes part of Postville, has been the most vocal of Iowa’s federal delegation in calling for a full investigation of Agriprocessors. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin has also called on federal officials to investigate the plant following the raid. U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, a Republican whose district includes the other portion of Postville, stopped short of calling for an investigation, but has proclaimed the immigration system “broken.” Several local residents have told news organizations that they have been called to testify before a grand jury, a sign that the company is under investigation.
Amara’s automobile business was common knowledge in Postville, according to former employees.
“Everyone knew that if you wanted better conditions — or even if you wanted a job at the plant — you bought a car from Hasom,” a 26-year-old former worker from Mexico said in a taped interview. “Then you could get what you wanted.”
According to this man (who was not detained in the May 12 raid), a male relative, also from Mexico, came to Postville in search of work and was told no jobs were available.
“I spoke to him, and I said that I knew a way he could get a job,” the former worker recalled. “He told me that he knew what he had to do. He went to Hasom and, without asking for a job, said that he wanted to buy a car. Hasom asked him what car he wanted and, a day or two later, the car arrived.”
Only after the deal on the vehicle had taken place did the undocumented worker approach Amara about employment at the plant.
“When he went to pick up the car, he told Hasom that he’d really like a job at Agri, but that human resources had told him there were no jobs available,” the worker explained. “Hasom told him to come to Agri the next day and be ready to work. He did, and he started working that same day.”
Chaim Abrahams, a spokesman for Agriprocessors, declined to answer questions about Amara, stating in an e-mail that “the company is performing an independent investigation and will continue to cooperate with the government about this matter.”
The Iowa Department of Transportation began investigating possible document fraud involving vehicles owned by Agriprocessors employees in September 2005, according to Hoagland’s affidavit. One worker interviewed in the probe reported being told by other workers that “in order to get a favorable position in the plant” he or she “would have to purchase a car from the supervisor.”
In the interview with Iowa Independent, the former worker, who claimed to have begun his career at Agriprocessors as a teenager, said that he was approached “a couple of years ago” by the company’s human resources director, Elizabeth Billmeyer, and another member of plant management, who asked him explain “what was going on with the cars.”
“I told her and him exactly what I’m telling to you today,” the man said. “I told them that Hasom Amara was selling cars to workers in exchange for better treatment.”
He said he spoke out because of a belief that Amara would be punished for what he was doing.
“I was so stupid,” he added. “I thought he would get in trouble — maybe even get fired for what he was doing. That’s not what happened at all.”
A request for comment from Agriprocessors on Billmeyer’s involvement and knowledge of the car sales was acknowledged with the prepared statement of Abrahams that is quoted above.
In a separate interview, another former worker said he also spoke with Billmeyer and another company official about the car sales.
“I told them that the cars were junk and that the workers were paying too much,” said the man, a native of Guatemala who was not arrested in the May 12 raid. “I told them everything I knew about the cars because I wanted Hasom to be punished for what he was doing. I was angry. I’m still angry.”
A third former plant worker, a 20-year-old male, said he traveled with Amara to Cedar Rapids for the purpose of driving the vehicles into Postville for delivery to the workers.
“It wasn’t a dealership,” he said in a recorded interview through a translator. “We picked up the cars at a junk yard. The cars were not good — crap.”
The worker said he confronted Amara after driving the vehicle to Postville.
“I told him that I was going to turn him in because he was selling my people junk,” the man said. Amara’s response to this threat, if any, is unknown because Iowa Independent’s interview abruptly ended when the former worker’s attorney arrived.
DOT investigators audited a Cedar Rapids business, identified only as “dealership,” according to the search warrant affidavit, and determined that roughly 90 percent of the organization’s sales came from Postville residents. Investigators also determined that the Agriprocessors supervisor and “dealership” owner were friends.
In the affidavit, a confidential source described registering the cars in Burlington in southeastern Iowa using the addresses of friends. When the registration documents arrived, the source shipped them back to Postville. The source said he had done this more than 200 times.
Two of the former workers also corroborated a story reported by Postville radio station KPVL that employees of Agriprocessors were supplying undocumented workers with falsified documents. Both men said that they were paid in cash when they first started working for the company. After a few months, the workers were asked if they wanted a raise in pay. After the men agreed, they said they were given documents by Agriprocessors and then began to receive their pay by check.
“They knew from the beginning who and what we were,” one of the former workers said. “They didn’t care. They wanted us because we work hard and for not much money. They wanted us because we couldn’t complain.”
Spokesmen with the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Northern Iowa and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said they could not comment on questions about an ongoing investigation.