By Debbie Maimon
President Obama’s recent nomination of Iowa U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose to serve as a federal judge has forced into the spotlight an ugly chapter-the Postville Prosecutions of 2008. The rehashing of this disturbing odyssey has cast a dark shadow over Rose as she awaits Senate confirmation.
“Rose must now meet her moral and ethical duty to publicly explain her role [in the Postville Prosecutions], and give assurances that as a federal judge she will show a commitment to justice that she seemed to lack in 2008,” David Leopold, past president of American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), wrote in the Huffington Post.
“At a minimum,” he stressed, “the Senate Judiciary Committee should insist that Rose fully explain her role in the [many] due process violations which characterize the assembly line justice meted out during the Postville Prosecutions.”
The Postville Prosecutions comprised the immediate legal aftermath of the terrifying worksite enforcement action against Agriprocessors, the 2008 military-style ICE raid that destroyed the town and the region’s economy.
In that operation, 600 local and national lawmen in riot gear swooped down on the Postville meat-packing plant, pounding doors open and arresting and shackling hundreds of men and women. The vast majority were herded onto buses, detained in makeshift jails, and subjected to fast-track criminal convictions-94 a day-for entering the country illegally.
After being forced into plea deals to avoid lengthy jail terms for “identity theft” (a charge later invalidated by a Supreme Court ruling), the arrestees were jailed for five months and afterward deported.
Almost none had previous criminal records. Never before-or since-were illegal immigrants in this country arrested and fast-tracked to jail en masse simply for being undocumented.
Congressional Investigation Stymied
A congressional investigation into allegations of due process violations sought to identify who was responsible. It also probed to what extent Iowa’s federal courts, which imposed the prison and deportation sentences, may have been impermissibly involved in the raid and the criminal prosecutions.
Leopold of AILA, along with a number of eyewitnesses to the raid, gave testimony at the hearing.
The congressional subcommittee’s investigation was stymied by conflicting reports, with DOJ spokeswoman Deborah Rhodes testifying that Iowa federal prosecutors directed the prosecutions, whereas Iowa prosecutors insisted the orders came from Washington.
Rhodes defended Chief Judge Reade, whose involvement was being scrutinized, saying she had merely received a “heads up” about the ICE operation. That claim would later be belied by ICE memoranda that suggested a profound level of participation by Judge Reade in pre-raid planning.
The 2008 investigation wound down without closure on critical questions.
A Senator’s Endorsement Carries Clout
Four years later, with Stephanie Rose’s appointment as federal judge, Iowa’s Senator Harkin who nominated Rose for the post, would flatly contradict the Department of Justice’s official stance about who gave ICE their marching orders.
“The Judiciary Committee and Department of Justice looked at the entire raid and aftermath, and determined [Ms. Rose] had no knowledge of the planning or implementation of the raid,” Harkin said in a statement to Eastern Iowa News.
At the time of the raid, Stephanie Rose was Deputy Chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Iowa’s Northern District, reportedly third in the chain of command. Few believe it credible that she had no knowledge of the massive operation her office was planning for many months prior to its execution.
But a senator’s endorsement carries clout and has muted criticism of Rose in many quarters. This is not the first time Harkin has gone to bat for Rose. It was Harkin who nominated her for the post of U.S. Attorney in 2009, a year after the raid. Harkin lavished praise on Rose for her commitment to fairness and her excellent judgment.
A New York Times article slammed the 2009 nomination, reminding the public of Rose’s key role in the Postville prosecutions. The article quoted a social justice organization that cited Rose’s office’s “aggression” in the way the Postville Prosecutions were conducted, harshly criticizing Rose and her colleagues for putting “the requirements of their own ambition” ahead of respect for due process.
Others echoed their dismay at seeing Rose rewarded for her performance in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“She was among the key assistant U.S. Attorneys who drove the mass prosecutions of nearly 300 undocumented immigrant workers arrested at Agriprocessors,” Huffington Post informed readers. “There the government brazenly used the federal identity theft law as a hammer to coerce the workers into pleading guilty to social security fraud, despite questionable evidence, and accepting automatic deportation.”
Denying Documented Facts
Despite the cloud hanging over her in 2009, Rose won confirmation as U.S. Attorney. Sometime afterward, she published an op-ed in the Des Moines Register, saying she had decided tofinally “break her silence” to correct “a mountain of false information” about the conduct of her office in the Postville Prosecutions.
She cast the ICE operation as little more than a casual inspection by humane officials, denying known and documented facts about the raid.
“Agents were not clad in riot gear. There was no military operation,” she scoffed. She said the illegal workers had been “appropriately housed and fed catered meals.” In Rose’s version, the arrestees all had “access to phones, televisions and other recreational activities.”
“Tireless agents, U.S. Attorney’s Office employees, defense attorneys and court personnel worked around the clock to ensure defendants’ rights were protected and standards of human decency were met,” Rose gushed.
Compare her rhapsodic portrayal with Leopold’s factual description in the Huffington Post of the due process violations to which the immigrants were subjected.
“Launched in the waning days of the Bush Administration, Postville was a cold clinical experiment in which federal prosecutors sought to criminalize undocumented workers on a mass scale.”
“By using the federal identity theft statute as a hammer, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa concocted serious felonies out of routine civil immigration violations. No longer would undocumented immigrants simply be arrested, administratively processed and deported. Now they would be sent home as criminals.”
The article goes on to describe the denial of adequate defense counsel to the workers and the unlawful use of “Fast Tracking” prosecution. This amounted to a conviction/deportation assembly line, denying the fundamental rights of the defendants.
Rose’s Unwitting Revelations
In breaking her silence in the Des Moines Register op-ed, Rose addressed the allegations of government overreaching in the “assembly line” prosecutions of hundreds of workers.
That enforcement action, she said, was “critical to the successful prosecution of Rubashkin and other management employees. These cases could not have been effectively prosecuted if the illegal workers had not been arrested and detained.”
What Rose revealed was astounding. The massive, extravagant raid that destroyed Postville as well as the brutal treatment of impoverished Guatemalan farmers was viewed as “critical” essentially for the purpose of nabbing Sholom Rubashkin.
Why the urgent need to nab him? We know why it was deemed necessary at the time. The original indictment spelled out a long string of lurid crimes allegedly going on in Agriprocessors, including the harboring of a drug lab and the smuggling of weapons onto the company’s premises. Charges of rabbis abusing workers, and the company knowingly employing illegal immigrants were enumerated.
Doing Bad Things To Stop Bad People From Doing Bad Things
In other words, Rose’s rationale seems to be boil down to: the government had no choice but to treat the immigrants harshly to stop Rubashkin from doing bad things to them.
Yet at the time Rose wrote her op-ed, almost of all of the “bad things” had been discovered to be false allegations and had never again been mentioned by prosecutors. In addition, the immigration charges that lay at the heart of the indictment had all been dropped.
[The child labor offenses would later all be dismissed by a jury in the state labor trial.]
Sholom Rubashkin was ultimately convicted of none of the offenses in the original indictment. That means that draconian measures against hundreds of immigrants that Rose insists were necessary because they enabled the government to go after Rubashkin for terrible crimes, turned out to be misguided, a colossal mistake.
In place of an acknowledgement from Rose, however, that government misconceptions formed the core of the indictment, the public was fed the brazen lie that “the massive law enforcement action” with its wrenching collateral damage on hundreds of defenseless people “was critical” to effectively prosecute the arch criminal, Sholom Rubashkin.
Rose: No One Came Forward to Testify Against Rubashkin
In case anyone wonders how arresting and jailing hundreds of undocumented workers could aid in prosecuting Rubashkin, Rose made it very clear.
“Not one unarrestedillegal worker ever came forward to assist law enforcement,” she explained.
In other words, to compel people to “assist law enforcement,” the government had no choice but to arrest them. Otherwise, no one would “come forward” and testify; there would simply be no case against Rubashkin.
After investing millions of dollars and untold man-hours in the planning and execution of the sensational raid, the government would have to walk away empty-handed. Who knows how many heads would roll as a result of the botched operation.
That could not be countenanced. Hence, as Rose tells us in her op-ed full of unwitting disclosures, the illegal workers had to be arrested and jailed before they could be induced to “assist” law enforcement [obviously by agreeing to give incriminating testimony against their employer in exchange for leniency.]
As we know, none of the charges of which Sholom Rubashkin was ultimately convicted needed the immigrants’ testimony. He ended up never standing trial for immigration offenses, for which their evidence was deemed “critical.” He stood trial for bank fraud, matters that the arrested workers could normally have never assisted prosecutors with.
Finding A Way to Exploit Jailed Immigrants
Lest anyone think the spectacular show of government firepower was therefore a total waste of time and money, Rose’s office found a way to exploit the jailed immigrants in the bank fraud trial.
Prosecutors had the immigrants testify that Sholom Rubashkin encouraged and enabled his Hispanic workers to use false papers-a charge he denied. This offense and other immigration-related evidence should have been irrelevant and inadmissible in the bank fraud trial.
It was sneaked in, however, under prosecutors’ claims that by hiring illegals, Sholom Rubashkin had “defrauded” his lender bank because he had assured them that he was in full compliance with U.S. law.
Concocting A Sinister Picture
In the end, the immigrants who were arrested in order to persuade them to “assist” law enforcement in prosecuting Rubashkin for degenerate crimes, ended up helping prosecutors in a different way-by painting the defendant as having run afoul of immigration law.
Prosecutors creatively manipulated the “evidence” so that it took on sinister dimensions, projecting Sholom Rubashkin as a conniving lawbreaker who secretly pumped out false papers and arrogantly circumvented regulations. Not as wicked as a drug peddler, abuser of minorities or weapons smuggler, perhaps, but criminal enough.
Jurors found it easy to convict such an odious person of whatever charges prosecutors pinned on him.
Much ink has been spilled explaining how Sholom Mordechai’s right to a fair trial was compromised by the collaboration between the presiding judge and the prosecution. Although detailed evidence of this collaboration surfaced only with the release of the FOIA materials, organizations such as AILA and ACLU were troubled in the immediate aftermath of the raid by the overwhelming appearance of judicial bias.
It is illuminating to note the words of Charles Kuck, past president of AILA, who, without the benefit of the stark evidence in the FOIA documents, penetrated to the heart of what many legal experts regard as the worst case of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct in recent history.
Kuck had the courage to publicly express what few dared to say about Chief Judge Reade.
“The Iowa federal district court was driving the train, fatally compromising its own integrity as an independent branch of government,” wrote Kuck about Reade’s extraordinary involvement in the prosecution.
“The Court, with Chief Judge Reade presiding, violated the Agriprocessors defendants’ rights to an impartial judge who is not predisposed to side with the prosecution,” Kuck wrote. He noted the following clear indications of partiality-once again, without the benefit of hindsight made possible by the belated release of government memoranda:
“The Court demonstrated its partiality through its collaboration with ICE and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in preparing for the raid and the subsequent criminal prosecutions.”
“The U.S. Attorney’s office secretly notified the Court almost six months prior to the raid to not only prepare for potentially 700 arrests but to also develop the plea agreement scripts and binders for the defendants and their attorneys.”
“The Court also attended the orientation meeting for the defense attorneys held at the courthouse.”
“In preparation for the raid, the Court hired twenty-six interpreters from around the country. Once the raid commenced, the Court held extended hours and agreed to process defendants in groups to enable fast-tracked processing – up to 94 defendants per day.”
“The Court’s pre-approval of the plea agreement and preparations for the hearings gave the appearance of cooperating with and being partial to the prosecution.”
“Public defender Rockne Cole wrote a letter to Congress after declining to represent any of the Agriprocessors defendants because he found a breath-taking level of coordination between the United States District Court Judge and the Department of Justice” that gave a reasonable appearance of partiality in the Court.”
“The chilling spectacle that unfolded as a result of the 2008 Postville raid remains a stain on our justice system,” the Huffington Post article by Leopold concludes.
“As a federal judge Stephanie Rose will be entrusted to decide each case fairly, impartially and diligently. That is why before the Senate passes on her confirmation it should insist that she tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about her role in the Postville prosecutions.”