The following article was written by Bob Barr, a native of Iowa City, a former Republican Congressman from Georgia who ran in the 2008 presidential election. The article appeared in the Des Moines Register:
In early December 2008, Bernie Madoff was arrested by federal agents for allegedly masterminding a $65 billion, decades-long Ponzi scheme. Yet, within days of his arrest, the government agreed to allow the accused swindler to remain free on bail. Granted, the bail conditions under which Madoff was forced to live were onerous, and included surrendering his and his wife’s passports, 24-7 monitoring of his penthouse apartment, and severe restrictions on his movements outside the walls of his home.
The Madoff case illustrates that even for one of the most infamous white-collar criminals in modern times, there was a way to both satisfy the government’s interest to ensure that a defendant shows up for court proceedings and at the same time provide an opportunity for a defendant to maintain some semblance of a family, professional and religious life while his or her case proceeds through the justice system.
Surprisingly, however, in another case – this one still unfolding – the Department of Justice is being overly parsimonious in refusing to allow bail for a defendant charged with white-collar crimes far less serious than those to which the disgraced Madoff pleaded last year.
The case now pending in federal court presents a host of interesting issues; not the least of which is the fact that it revolves around an Orthodox Jewish businessman recently convicted of bank fraud involving loans to a kosher meat plant (now bankrupt) in a small town in northeast Iowa that was the target of a massive immigration raid in May 2008. Undeniably, being convicted on 86 counts of financial fraud in November 2009 is serious. However, as with many federal criminal cases, the number of counts with which a person is charged, or on which they are convicted, fails to convey a true or full picture of either the government’s or the defendant’s behavior.
Thus it is with Sholom Rubashkin and the company he used to manage, Agriprocessors. Until the criminal charges were levied against Rubashkin, Agriprocessors was by far the largest employer in Postville, but also the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the entire country.
What makes the Rubashkin story even more intriguing is that the initial case against Agriprocessors – stemming from the much-publicized immigration raid – was later abandoned by the government, which opted to go after him for “paper crimes” involving bank forms and statements, and not immigration violations. Also interesting was the manner in which the government raid was carried out. While a kosher meatpacking plant in Iowa is hardly the venue from which one might expect organized armed resistance, the raid on Agriprocessors was carried out with massive military force, including some 600 agents in heavy riot gear and Blackhawk helicopters circling overhead.
The government’s show of force and its grant-no-quarter approach has never let up. Now, nearly two years later, the government is refusing to agree to allow the orthodox Jewish ex-CEO to remain out of jail on bail while he awaits sentencing and prepares his appeal. Federal law does permit a federal judge to detain someone after they have been convicted but before sentencing and prior to an appeals court ultimately deciding their case, if there is evidence of a risk of flight or violence. Absent such evidence, such defendants frequently are permitted to remain with family, reflecting both humanitarian concerns as well as economic considerations.
However, in this case, the feds thus far have been unyielding in their opposition to bail. Rubashkin’s lawyers have taken extraordinary steps to convince the court their client will remain accessible and show up for court. Rubashkin already has surrendered his passport, and he has proposed the most strenuous restrictions on his movements (including a 24/7 security detail and home confinement) if allowed bail pending appeal. Yet, what was good enough to convince the government that the notorious Mr. Madoff would not flee apparently is insufficient for Mr. Rubashkin. Indeed, the degree of overkill employed by the government against Rubashkin raises troubling questions.