Has the Justice Dept. Gone Too Far?


rubashkin-bitachon3By Shmully Hecht

[Donate link below.] The conviction of Sholom Rubashkin, former Vice President of Iowa’s Agriprocessors, America’s largest kosher meat processor and one of the most important businesses in the Mid-west, has caused tremendous pain to all involved, not just the Rubashkin family but the thousands of employees and vendors whose livelihoods were sustained by this massive enterprise.

Rubashkin allegedly made false statements to his bank  while he was repaying his loan, a crime for which he was convicted with a recommendation from prosecutors of life in prison!

In 2009, I visited the Agriprocessors plant, witnessing a vast and thriving operation where Americans from all walks of life worked to make a decent living in their pursuit of the American dream, which has always included immigrants establishing a new life in this country with the hope of bringing their relatives to enjoy its bounty. I also noticed the transformation of what was once a dwindling Midwestern town into a thriving place of commerce.

I went to Iowa, which had become a hub of Kosher America, because I had noticed the quantity and quality of meat dwindling in my local Connecticut supermarket and was concerned about what I heard: that the main supplier of kosher meat had been raided on suspicion of a series of alleged crimes.

I also needed to see with my own eyes, both out of concern for Jews all over the country who depend on kosher meat to prepare daily meals and wanting to understand firsthand, what had warranted a raid of six hundred federal agents reinforced from the air by Black Hawk helicopters on the business of a very well respected family.

During that visit, I had the chance to briefly meet Sholom Rubashkin, whose reputation as a generous supporter of numerous causes preceded him. Beyond his family’s many acts of public charity and extremely humble lifestyle, they were known to privately engage in large giving and, to get a sense of reputation, the Rubashkins were often seen putting quarters in strangers’ empty parking meters.

I contacted the Iowa economic development office to see what could be done to sustain a disrupted business which is so important to the local economy and the national Kosher and Hallal communities. After various conversations with a high ranking official there , the State offered me and any interested corporate group long-term tax abatements and even forgivable State loans to purchase and restructure the company. This official explained how the loss of an annual three hundred million dollars a year in revenue would devastate not only the small town of Postville, but Iowa and all neighboring states. Farmers, truck drivers, cattle breeders , local laborers – people at every level – would suffer devastating losses if Agriprocessors were to simply disappear.

Now, only the bank fraud conviction, which is being appealed, remains, but senior Justice Department officials are pressuring the Iowa court to sentence Rubashkin to a lifetime of imprisonment.

Has America ever sent a man to prison for life for crimes which the prosecution says resulted in a loss of twenty six million dollars? Would there have been a loss to begin with had the government worked out the immigration issue as Agri lawyers were in the midst of doing? Did Sholom Rubashkin benefit personally from the 26 million dollar loss?

The Answer is no, no no. A former president of First Bank Mortgage in St. Louis, Mark Turkan, was sentenced to one year and a day on eight counts of fraud for misapplication of 35 million dollars and a 21 year cover up. A year and a day!

Perhaps our Justice Dept. has ignored the ramifications of the government’s unprecedented raid. Throughout the case, charges of illegal use of immigrants were pursued and used to obtain warrants amd impress the court and media surrounding the case and justify the intensity of the raid and investigation. The government ultimately dropped the entire immigration case, only after severely damaging Mr. Rubashkin’s reputation in the eyes of the public and more importantly in the eyes of the jury. It is evident that the collapse of the economy of an American town and regional employer was caused by an overreaching, overzealous federal agency. Although Sholom Rubashkin has been convicted of bank fraud, which demands sentencing, a more reasonable length should be considered.

Shmully Hecht is Founder of Eliezer, the Jewish Society at Yale University.

Please continue to daven for Reb Shalom Mordechai ben Rivkah.

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