Rubashkin Trial Wraps Up: An Overview


rubashkin3By Debbie Maimon and Avi Yishai

The trial of Reb Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin wound to a close Monday, with prosecutors and defense attorneys giving closing arguments that painted radically different pictures of the defendant.

U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan, addressing the jurors first, said the defendant masterminded an enormous fraud scheme and harbored illegal immigrants at the plant. He accused Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin of being obsessed with control.

Jabbing his finger at the defendant in a theatrical display of pious indignation, he said “This man knowingly defrauded First Bank by offering false invoices for orders that never existed! He lied! He cheated!” Deegan mocked Reb Shalom Mordechai’s claims that he was not responsible for all financial transactions and that he did not know that his actions crossed the line into illegality. 

Deegan urged the jury to find Rubashkin guilty on all 91 counts – virtually sentencing him to life imprisonment.

Defense attorney Guy Cook told jurors that the prosecution had invented a story that didn’t happen. He asked the jury to take the necessary time to think about the evidence and to weigh it carefully.

“The prosecution wants you to set aside the evidence, and regardless of whether it makes sense, to find the defendant guilty,” he said. “I’m asking you not to rush to judgment but to think carefully about what you’ve heard here. Think about the evidence. Any reasonable person can see the government’s case is implausible. It goes against common sense.”

Bank Signaled Its Consent

Cook addressed the central charge that Reb Shalom Mordechai had defrauded the bank by creating false invoices to show inflated sales, so as to entitle Agriprocessors to additional loan funds.

Cook said, “Shalom Rubashin has acknowledged he made mistakes. But it was obvious the bank knew about it and still continued to lend Agriprocessors money. In so doing, the bank was signaling its tacit consent.” 

Interest on the $35 million line of credit came to $13.5 million and was enormously lucrative for the lender bank. It helped shaped the bank’s policy of not looking closely at Agriprocessors’ paperwork, never once conducting an audit, and continuing to lend the meat company millions of dollars even after the government raid.

Given the bank’s intentionally turning a blind eye, how could the government possibly cry fraud, Cook asked the jury. Furthermore, while the bank itself launched its own civil suit against Agriprocessors to recover its loan money, strikingly, the lawsuit makes no complaint of fraud.

Cook said that this fact underscores that the government has manufactured a federal criminal case out of a matter that should have remained in civil litigation. The government had overreached in this case, he said.  

He said his client was an inexperienced businessman who tackled too much. “My client is guilty of incompetence and oversight. That doesn’t make him a criminal. Defaulting on a bank loan is not a crime.”

The Government of the United States Against…. Shalom Rubashkin? 

Cook reminded jurors of some of the terms in the plant’s loan contract with the bank, that Aaron Rubashkin, Shalom’s father, carries “unlimited” responsibility for the $35 million loan, while Shalom was responsible for just $1 million. He noted that Agriprocessors had many high-level managers, and Reb Shalom Mordechai was not responsible for all financial transactions.

The fact that the government insists on singling out Reb Shalom Mordechai exclusively for every minor and major violation they uncovered invites suspicion, Cook said. How is it possible in a business so massive, he asked, for one person to be single-handedly responsible for every single mistake and oversight?

Cook wondered aloud why prosecutors had not a single question for Aaron Rubashkin while he was on the witness stand. “It seems they had a script they had to follow, and it called for concentrating all their ammunition at my client. Questioning the true owner of the plant might uncover information that would weaken their case against Shalom. That couldn’t be allowed. The script had to be followed to the end.”

Aaron Rubashkin, who opened the Postville slaughterhouse in 1987, told jurors that he mortgaged his home, two buildings that he owned and his store in Boro Park after the May 2008 immigration raid.

“I don’t want to describe what was there (following the raid),” the 80 year-old said. “I’m sure the architects who made it have pictures.”

His efforts to save the company ultimately failed, as the plant slipped into bankruptcy the following November.

Defense lawyers called the elder Rubashkin, a Lubavitcher chossid who began his career decades ago processing meat in Paris after fleeing Russia, to contest the charges.

“When we came to Postville, every street (had) 4-5 homes for sale; Stores were for rent,” Aaron Rubashkin said. “We bought a rundown plant; everything was rotten. We built a new water facility.”

He said he commuted to Brooklyn, NY, every week, while his two sons who helped him in the company, Shalom Mordechai lived in Twin Cities, MN, and Heshy in Rochester.

Building a shul, mikvah and school to properly conduct Jewish-observant life was a necessary step. By the time of the raid, the Iowa town was a full-fledged Jewish community.

When asked what Shalom Mordechai’s job title was when he began, Aaron Rubashkin simply replied: “Son.”

“We ran it like a family business,” he added.

His son, Yossi Rubashkin, and son-in-law, Shalom Minkowicz, managed the sales in New York. His daughter did the same in Florida.

Following the raid, Aaron Rubashkin said he managed to gather between 4 and 5 million dollars from his personal assets. “We tried to get all the help we could,” he said.

He said he was unaware of any illegal immigrants working at the plant, and had trusted the plant’s human resources manager, Elizabeth Billmeyer, before the raid that detained 389 illegal workers.

“I used to trust her. She is a very strong woman,” Aaron Rubashkin said. “I cannot understand how this happened.”

At the end of his confident testimony Tuesday morning, the prosecution said it did not wish to cross-examine Aaron Rubashkin in front of the jurors. “Clearly they were afraid of the positive image he portrayed,” a supporter who was in court said. “He practically said the banks left him hanging to dry as he struggled to find funds they had promised to lend him, and that every financial move was consulted with them.”

Wildly Inflated Indictment

Attorney Cook said the wildly inflated “91 counts of bank, mail and wire fraud” with which Reb Shalom Mordechai is charged constitute an obvious ploy to sway the jury.

“Where does this “ninety-one” come from? Bank, mail and wire fraud – it’s all the very same charge. This massive number is meant to overwhelm you. You’re supposed to think “Ninety-one counts? He must have done something terrible. Even if he’s only guilty of a quarter of them, he must be a criminal!”

Cook reminded the jury that of the 50 witnesses the prosecution called, none of them who had any acquaintance with Reb Shalom Mordechai had a bad word to say about him.

“Did you hear from a single one of them that Shalom is a liar, a cheater, a greedy person?” he asked. “Think about the adjectives they used… ‘Generous,’ ‘kind,’ ‘honest,’ ‘trustworthy,’ ‘hard-working,’ ‘problem-solving…’ People who did millions of dollars of business with him over many years said his word is gold. You heard one witness testify that with Shalom, no contracts were necessary – a handshake sufficed.”

Cook also showed jurors a Power Point slide of Reb Shalom Mordechai with his wife and their 10 children. He reminded them that the fake invoices were never kept hidden or handled with secrecy, testifying to Reb Shalom Mordechai’s belief that he was doing nothing illegal.

“Would he knowingly put his family at risk?” Cook asked. “Does he have the criminal intent that the government assigns him? To convict him, you must be certain beyond any reasonable doubt that Shalom Rubashkin set out to break the law, to cheat and defraud.”

Cook held up the plant’s loan contract with the plant, which looked to be at least 100 pages, and reminded jurors that Reb Shalom Mordechai never read it. To emphasize his point, he dropped it on the floor.

 Crucial Testimony Suppressed 

 Witness testimony considered crucial by the defense team in establishing Reb Shalom Mordechai’s innocence was repeatedly barred by the presiding judge at the trial. Witnesses who had traveled considerable distances to testify were told by the judge that their information was not “relevant” and could not be presented before the jury.

 Judge Linda Reade, prodded by the prosecution, composed a list of topics that she would not allow the defense to mention at the trial, arguing that these topics could unfairly sway the jury in the defendant’s favor. By rigidly insisting on adherence to these restrictions, Reade deprived the defense team of opportunities to prove Reb Shalom Mordechai’s innocence, trial watchers said.   

 Taboo topics included any mention of Reb Shalom Mordechai’s flowing generosity and charitable activities. There was no place in the trial for an “emotional litany reciting the defendant’s good works,” Reade intoned. The defense team was also forbidden to mention politicians or elected officials who had toured Agriprocessors in the past, and had publicly lauded the plant, its management, operations and contribution to the community.

 Lastly, the defense was admonished to avoid all mention of the challenges the family faced in dealing with their 16-year old son’s autism, lest it evoke sympathy from the jury.

 Straight-Jacketing The Defense

 The suppression of other important testimony had the effect of straight-jacketing the defense. It cleared the way for the prosecution to paint Reb Shalom Mordechai as a conniving law-breaker who enriched himself and his family by defrauding the bank and exploiting the immigrants in his employment.

 Witnesses came forward to challenge this image, but jurors were instructed by Reade to leave the room while they spoke. The witnesses recounted examples of Reb Shalom Mordechai’s unusual humanitarianism and acts of kindness toward Jew and non-Jew alike. They testified to his stainless reputation in his own community and far beyond as a man of his word, honorable and trustworthy in business. 

 Even when attorneys argued that the above testimony was important in disproving money-laundering allegations, or to dispel insinuations that Reb Shalom Mordechai lived a lavish lifestyle by misappropriating funds, Judge Reade rigidly imposed her restrictions.   

 At various points in the trial, the hamstringing of the defense reached the point of absurdity. A prosecution witness testified that she was often asked by Reb Shalom Mordechai to drive her and his son to meetings. Prosecution attorneys insinuated that the defendant and his son were engaged in clandestine activity at the office and therefore preferred not to have the family’s car in the parking lot. 

 During cross-examination, the witness admitted that when Reb Shalom Mordechai needed a lift, it was usually because he had put his car at the disposal of one or other of the many visitors who found their way to his Postville address, seeking help. As for the son who accompanied his father to the “secret” meetings, “Are you aware that the defendant’s son, Moishe, is a special-needs autistic child?” Cook asked the witness. 

 “Objection!” the prosecutor exclaimed. “Sustained!” snapped the judge, sharply admonishing Cook for mentioning the forbidden topic of autistic Moishe. 

 Financial Expert’s Testimony Barred

 In another instance of Judge Reade barring crucial testimony, Manhattan-based Abe Roth, CPA, had made a comprehensive review of correspondence between Agriprocessors’ financial officers and FBBC, the lender bank Reb Shalom Mordechai was accused of defrauding.

Working pro bono, Roth came to Sioux Falls of his own volition, prepared to demonstrate to the judge and jury a fact vital to the defense: that it was virtually impossible that the bank was unaware that some of the paperwork submitted by Agriprocessors contained inflated numbers.

The discrepancies were too glaring to go unnoticed, Roth stated, indicating that the bank was complicit with the inflated sales numbers; due to the immense profits it reaped from the credit it extended Agriprocessors.

Roth never did get to present his findings to the jury. In one of many rulings that smacked of one-sidedness, Judge Reade ruled in pre-trial discussions that Roth’s testimony was inadmissible, since it represented his “opinion,” as opposed to “evidence.” 

“Look Me In The Eye….”

 Reade also refused to allow jurors to hear the testimony of Postville farmer Stan Martin who made the five-hour trip to Sioux Falls to tell a poignant story of how “Shalom” rescued him from disaster. With jurors out of the room, Mr. Martin recounted that after a plague killed off his entire hog farm, he came to Reb Shalom Mordechai for help. Pleading for a loan to restart himself in business by purchasing cows, he named a huge sum of money needed for the investment. “I’m so sorry, I simply don’t have that kind of money to lend,” Reb Shalom Mordechai told him.

 “Look me in the eye,” the man said brokenly. “I need your help desperately. I have nowhere else to turn.”

 “Well, Shalom stood up and looked me in the eye,” Mr. Martin recalled. “‘Meet me at the bank in an hour,'” he said to me. “I met him there an hour later and he arranged the loan. This is the sort of man you’re dealing with,” he said with a catch in his voice.

 Fistful Of Hundred Dollar Bills

 Mrs. S. traveled from Postville to Sioux Falls the same day, hoping to be able to repay a man who she said was like an angel from Heaven in her time of need. Her testimony too, was barred. Before the judge, attorneys from both sides and the court stenographer, but with the jury out of the room, Mrs. S. told of having fallen on hard times. She said she made an appointment to see Reb Shalom Mordechai at his office.

“I described how we were going through very difficult straits… My husband was in between jobs. Our electricity was about to be turned off. Rabbi Rubashkin didn’t ask questions or give advice. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a fistful of bills – hundred dollar bills. He gave me the money with a kind word and an encouraging smile… This scenario was repeated a number of times over the year, before we finally began to get back on our feet.”  

A Case Built On Insinuations 

Attorney Guy Cook argued for the right to present testimony about these sweeping acts of charity to the jury. The defense sought to counter the prosecution’s accusations that over a million dollars passed through Reb Shalom Mordechai’s bank account, that the defendant used the grocery and the yeshiva he supported to launder money for his own use, for “gold and silver items and jewelry.”

 Yet these alleged purchases were never specified or identified in court, and no evidence was ever produced that the money allegedly used to buy them came from illicit sources. Under cross-examination, Cook exposed a case so weak that it relied solely on insinuations and the hope of planting suspicion in jurors’ minds. Cook asked the government-appointed accountant who made the claim about the huge sum of money passing through Reb Shalom Mordechai to elaborate.

 “Can you tell the court where all this money went, where and how it was spent?” Cook asked.

 “Our investigation did not focus on that information,” the witness answered.

 “But you presented your testimony as a summary of the Rubashkin’s bank account,” Cook said.

 “No, sir, I called it a summary from his account.”

 “In other words, you are presenting a partial report, out of context?”

 “I’m presenting a summary of the deposits only.”

 “To be absolutely clear, you have no information about how the money was spent, whether for business or personal reasons, for loans, charity or anything else?”

 “That is correct.”

 What’s the point of half a story? Why did the investigation refrain from discovering what the money was spent on? Wouldn’t that shed light on whether the defendant was acting within the law or outside it?  

 The government-appointed accountant had no answer. He was simply doing what he was told to do. But the implication was clear to everyone in the courtroom. The government stopped short of investigating the expenditures in the Rubashkin account because the facts discovered might have crippled their case. Revelations that considerable sums of money went to help people like farmer Stan Martin or indigent people in the community like Mrs. S. would throw a monkey wrench into a case so weak it rested solely on insinuations to sway the jury.


 The shabbiness of the government’s case was further hammered home during cross-examination of one of the prosecution’s star witnesses, Yom Tov (Toby) Benssason, who turned informer in a plea agreement with the government.

 Bensasson testified against Reb Shalom Mordechai, his former boss and close friend. He said that Reb Shalom Mordechai orchestrated the fake invoices, and that instead of sending bank payments directly to the lender bank as required, he sometimes rerouted the money, depositing it in the grocery store or the community yeshiva, which Agriprocessors owned. The prosecution called this “money-laundering,” insinuating that Reb Shalom Mordechai withdrew this money for his own use. Guy Cook challenged this charge while cross-examining Bensasson. 

 Cook:  To your knowledge, did Shalom siphon off money from these funds for his personal use?

 Bensasson: No, sir.

 Cook: Are you aware of any outside bank accounts to which he re-routed any of it?

 Bensasson: I am not.

 Cook: Granted that the money was re-routed for a couple of days, didn’t every penny of it ultimately reach the bank?

 Bensasson: Yes. 

 Defense Calls for Mistrial

 In pre-trial rulings, Judge Reade had separated the charges of bank fraud from immigration-related charges, calling for two separate trials. She reasoned that combining the multiple issues and charges would confuse the jury, making a fair trial impossible. 

 This ruling was repeatedly violated during the actual trial. Reade permitted the prosecution to call up seven witnesses to testify about illegal immigrants being harbored at the meat-packing plant, allegedly with Reb Shalom Mordechai’s knowledge. Their testimony stretched over ten hours, continuing for a day and a half.

 Although the defense team objected, even filing for mistrial, Reade overruled them and allowed the testimony to proceed.

 Reb Shalom Mordechai took the stand last Thursday in his own defense. He told the court that learning of the impending immigration raid one day before it was launched, he and his lawyers had petitioned the government to allow the plant’s management to make the necessary changes without disrupting operations. Reb Shalom Mordechai pledged to comply with all requirements regarding the filing of legal identification papers, and the terminating the employment of unauthorized immigrants. The petition was ignored.

 The defense team wanted to subpoena the lawyers to testify that they were in the plant’s office the day of the raid, working to process new papers for many of the unauthorized workers. Reade refused to allow their testimony.

 The fact that Reb Shalom Mordechai took the stand was somewhat of an anomaly, as it is rare, in a case of a defendant facing a 2,000-year sentence, to take the stand and subject himself to the grilling of the prosecutors.

 “Reb Shalom Mordechai had no choice, however, because the judge had disqualified much of the defense’s evidence and many of their arguments, and didn’t permit witnesses for the defense say their piece,” relates a Rubashkin supporter. “When he testified, he spoke very calmly – as it says in Chovos Halevavos that one with bitachon is blessed with calmness. They tried to rattle him and it didn’t go. Hashem put the right words in his mouth and he stymied the prosecution. The siyata diShmaya was clear.”

 Reb Shalom Mordechai told the court that he never intentionally violated federal fraud or immigration laws.

“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.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney C.J. Williams confronted him about a statement he allegedly made to Elizabeth Billmeyer, the plant’s human resources director. Billmeyer testified last week that she warned Reb Shalom Mordechai about illegal immigrants working the plant. She said Shalom Mordechai told her: “It’s my company, and I’ll run it the way I want.”

“Did you say that?” Williams asked.

On the stand, Reb Shalom Mordechai 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 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.

Witness Coached

Disturbing evidence that witnesses were intimidated, threatened and repeatedly coached about how to testify emerged during various points during the trial.

One of the immigrants, who testified to being hired with false papers, admitted under defense cross-examination that he was told by investigators that unless he cooperated with the government and did as instructed, his visa permitting him to remain in the country with his family would not be renewed.

Another witness admitted to being repeatedly coached by prosecutors as to exactly what she was to say. “I was told to speak only about Shalom Rubashkin, and to say nothing that would implicate anyone else,” April Hamilton admitted under cross-examination.

Over the past few weeks, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, saw dozens of his family, friends and members of the frum community arriving to provide chizuk and moral support.

Local motels were hosting rabbonim, bochurim, askonim and others who came out of support for Reb Shalom Mordechai.

“We will miss them (when the trial ends),” said Lynelle Dick, front desk clerk at Country Inn. “It gets quiet in the winter and they liven the place.”

A few words from an observer in the courthouse gallery who traveled a long distance to be at the trial sums up what Reb Shalom Rubashkin’s predicament  means to so many people across the country, those who know him and those who don’t.

“I’m here because it could be me…” 

Please continue to daven for Shalom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivkah.

The need for financial support is still very strong. Anyone who can help out and can lend support should take a moment to send a donation to the Pidyon Shivuyim Fund. The help of Yidden across the globe is severely needed.

You can easily donate by clicking on one of the following links:

Alternatively, you can mail contributions to:

Pidyon Shvuyim Fund

53 Olympia Lane

Monsey NY 10952 

 {This article was originally published in Yated Ne’eman and appears here with permission.}

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  1. Yasher Koach again Matzav and the Yated for this report. May Hashem free him from his enemies so he can continue to do chesed for Am Yisroel.

  2. 13.5 million dollars interest on 35 million dollar loan? I think it’s the bank who defauded Rubashkin and not the other way around.

  3. One thing i always wanted to know. when they say the bank made 13.5 million in interest is that with or without them receiving their 35 million of the original loan?

  4. “As for the son who accompanied his father to the “secret” meetings, “Are you aware that the defendant’s son, Moishe, is a special-needs autistic child?” Cook asked the witness.

    ”Objection!” the prosecutor exclaimed. “Sustained!” snapped the judge, sharply admonishing Cook for mentioning the forbidden topic of autistic Moishe”.

    The way i remember it. Cook said, “the government mentions that you drove Shalom and his son Moshe. Moshe is a special boy?” She said “yes”. “He has autism?” “I didn’t know that’s what it was called but yes” was her reply. (this woman did not appear to have the highest IQ)

    “And Moshe is a sweet harmless boy?” Cook asked. “Yes” she replied. Cook continued “he is a warm boy?” “yes, I like Moshe” she said with a smile.

    Cook went on “and Moshe liked to be with his dad, he used to like go to work to hang out with his dad?”.

    That’s when the prosecutor called their objections which was sustained by the judge.

    It was at the end of the day after the jury left the room, that the prosecutors complained about Cook’s remarks. That’s when the judge went on to grill cook, strongly admonishing him.

    Cook explained himself, that it was the government who brought up the topic and as a result needed now to make it clear to the jury that this wasn’t some type clandestine activity. Because the way the government brought it up made it sound that Reb Sholom M and his son were involved in some conspiracy. Cook also needed to make it understood to the jury as to why “she” was driving and not Reb Sholom Mordechai or his son.

    One other note, in what was written under “A Case Built On Insinuations”, the cross examination was done by Mr. Montgomery Brown, the other defense attorney.

    Over all, very well written summery. Thanks Matzav for all your reporting on this case.

  5. I sincerely hope Moshiach Ztidkeinu will come and take us out from these shackles, including Mr Rubashkin, Jonathan Pollard, Gilad Shalit and all other Jews from which ever corner of the globe they may be found from their imprisonment or potential imprisonment. And may all those who tried and caused our ancient and chosen nation to suffer throughout these millenium get their just desserts. Amen

  6. Don’t support the man because he is an Orthodox Jew. Support him if you think he is innocent. And if he had told the truth to the prosecutors in the first place, he wouldn’t have brought down all the people who stood by him and did the right thing when he asked them to do the wrong thing.

  7. H’ Hear us! I hope that the jurors judge favorably, and that they be guided in a light to free Rubashkin, we all want him back, with us, to be peacefull, and happy again. Pleas!!!!