Reb Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin said in court today that he never intentionally violated federal fraud or immigration laws at the Agriprocessors Iowa kosher meat plant, but acknowledged that he “made mistakes.” The former vice president at Agriprocessors attributed his plant’s financial practices to his own oversights or actions by other employees. He said he was “trying hard to comply with the law” at the plant.
“I made mistakes,” he said. “I’m a human being. I took the information people gave me and sort of went with it without really drilling down to see if it was for real or not.”
Reb Shalom Mordechai’s statements came during his 91-count financial-fraud trial in Sioux Falls, S.D. The 50-year-old has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The trial comes more than a year after federal agents raided the Postville slaughterhouse and detained 389 illegal immigrants. The plant slipped into bankruptcy.
Assistant U.S. Attorney C.J. Williams asked Reb Shalom Mordechai about a statement that Elizabeth Billmeyer, the plant’s human resources director, said he made to her. Billmeyer testified last week that she warned Rubashkin about illegal immigrants working the plant. She said Rubashkin told her: “It’s my company, and I’ll run it the way I want.”
“Did you say that?” Williams asked.
On the stand, Rubashkin shook his head and said he was offended. “First of all, Agriprocessors is not my company,” he said. “I don’t talk like that. I never, ever made a statement like that. It’s not me.”
Defense lawyers have made clear – despite what prosecutors wish to fabricate – that Reb Shalom Mordechai’s father, Aaron, was the company’s sole owner while Reb Shalom Mordechai handled day-to-day operations.
Defense lawyer Guy Cook walked Reb Shalom Mordechai through his upbringing in the Boro Park neighborhood in Brooklyn, then asked about his family and faith as a frum Jew. Prosecutors objected to the narrative nine times in the first 25 minutes of testimony.
Reb Shalom Mordechai described himself as a “pioneer of the West” who helped build a strong Chabad Lubavitch Jewish community his northeast Iowa town.
“In the beginning, it was quite a task to get one or two people to come there, and someone to teach,” he said.
Testimony is continuing this afternoon.