Prosecutors, Judges Decry Rubashkin “Witch Hunt”

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The following article by Charles B. Renfrew and James H. Reynolds first appeared at the Des Moines Register:

The American legal system is often held to be among the best in the world, but it is not when someone is the victim of conduct that is neither just nor legal. A case in point is Sholom Rubashkin, the former vice president of Agriprocessors, America’s largest kosher meat-packing plant, based in Postville.

There is new evidence of egregious prosecutorial misconduct that led to Rubashkin’s 27-year prison sentence for financial fraud, as documented in a recent merits brief filed by his lawyers in March. An unprecedented letter, recently sent to Kevin Techau, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, signed by 107 former high level Department of Justice officials, FBI directors, federal judges and prestigious law professors attests to the extraordinary prosecutorial misconduct which exacted the most possible punitive sentence for Rubashkin. Several former attorneys general, including John Ashcroft and even Michael Mukasey, who was the attorney general at the time the case was actually being prosecuted, are among the signatories of the letter. A first-time offender, Rubashkin received an extreme sentence that is virtually unprecedented in the annals of non-violent offenses, far surpassing those of many rapists and murderers.

The explanation as to “why” the pursuit of Sholom Rubashkin was so overzealous that it bordered on a veritable witch hunt still remains elusive, but the clarification as to “how” is now punctiliously laid out in both the merits brief and the letter to Mr. Techau: There was false testimony and willful manipulation, and that makes this a shocking case of prosecutorial misconduct.

From the outset, prosecutors determined that Rubashkin’s sentence (in terms of years) would correspond with the amount of money owed to First Bank of St. Louis, from which Agriprocessors had originally secured a $35 million dollar loan (which it was paying back in an ongoing and timely manner). After an unprecedented government immigration raid brought the company to its knees, arresting 389 of its employees and sealing both its doors and ultimate fate, Agriprocessors filed for bankruptcy. Agriprocessors’ sole owner, Aaron Rubashkin (father of Sholom) was never deemed culpable of any crime nor slapped with a single federal count. Yet, despite his complete lack of complicity, Aaron Rubashkin was effectively barred by Sholom’s prosecutors from stepping in and taking over the company (or, for that matter, having any role at the company), so the possibility of Agriprocessors resurrecting itself and making good on its loan to First Bank was doomed.

When a slew of bidders came forward offering to buy the company (one individual wanted to purchase it for $40 million which would have effectively repaid the bank loan in its entirety), prosecutors deliberately thwarted the prospects by constructing a “No Rubashkin” rule, which was completely illegal but highly effective in quashing Sholom Rubashkin’s chances for a fair sentence. Potential buyers were told by Sholom’s prosecutors in no uncertain terms that Aaron Rubashkin — who was key to running the complex business and whose trustworthiness in the kosher meat market was crucial to the company’s success — would not be allowed to help administer or even advise them in the smallest of matters, effectively scaring them off from making the purchase. Prosecutors kept turning away interested parties, manipulating the bids so that the lowest one — for $8.5 million — was the only one that was accepted, leaving an outstanding debt of $27 million, thus resulting in Rubashkin’s cruel and unjust concomitant sentence of 27 years.

The prosecutors’ priority was clear albeit bizarre: They were more interested in making sure that Aaron Rubashkin, who was never charged with a crime, be punished by taking away his business that he had spent decades building, than they were in restoring the forfeited money to the bank lender, the primary victim in the case. The prosecutors did so in the face of pleas from both the victim bank and the independent court-appointed bankruptcy trustee that the prosecutors’ interference in the bankruptcy sale process would scare off potential buyers making it impossible for the company to be sold for a fair value. These pleas fell on deaf ears and the resulting low-ball sale sealed Sholom’s fate.

What’s more, at the sentencing, these same prosecutors brazenly put on false testimony that there wasn’t a “No Rubashkin” rule, thereby misleading the judge into finding that Sholom was responsible for the bank’s $27 million loss. That loss served as the foundation for his 27-year sentence.

Rubashkin, who has already served nearly seven of those years, would be 71 when released. He is the father of 10, including an autistic child with whom he was very close and who remains severely devastated by his father’s absence, as is of course his entire family. The human toll of the prosecutors’ vicious agenda against Rubashkin has been apocalyptic. An entire family is being destroyed by a draconian sentence that was meted out based on the underpinnings of fraud and deceit.

With potential buyers being thwarted and intimidated at every turn, and a false witness being brought into the court to flagrantly lie and counter bidders’ testimony, the legal wrongdoing evident in the Rubashkin case constitutes an extraordinary miscarriage of justice. These facts are sufficient to warrant speedy action. As former Department of Justice officials, we call on Mr. Techau and his office to take any and all action to immediately release Sholom Rubashkin.

Charles B. Renfrew was the U.S. District Court judge in the Northern District of California from 1972-1980 and U.S. deputy attorney general from 1980-1981. James H. Reynolds was the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa from 1976-1982.



  1. outrageous!!!!
    1. we need a public to do list. how can we contribute
    2. promote some hashtag
    3. promote the number of followers
    4. try to get more media attention
    5. where are our organizations. maybe a united front across our gevaldiga organizations

    HOW CAN WE HELP!!!!!!

  2. This will likely have little effect, as the last President who appointed federal judges who weren’t in the spirit of “Lock ‘Em Up And Throw Away The Key” was Jimmy Carter. And Carter made no Supreme Court appointments. Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland is a fine judge but he is also in that mold, as are all the 11 people Trump put on his public short list. And I doubt that Hillary Clinton will be any different in this regard given her past record.

    The federal sentencing guidelines are also to blame — if you read the sentencing report on Rubashkin you will see that the sentence was within the guidelines. They were pushed by a bipartisan coalition of Republicans who don’t care about due process and Democrats who were sick and tired of being accused of being soft on crime.

    Reform is not likely any time soon. 🙁

    • …Republicans who don’t care about due process…
      Yep, all Republicans are evil Torquemada wanna-be’s. Sorry, but it’s impossible to take a post seriously when it comes from such a twisted, biased outlook.

      • Sorry the facts are inconvenient to your twisted, biased Narrative. The “tough on crime” meme was led by Republicans and it won them a lot of elections.

        • tough on crime” is the same thing as “don’t care about due process“?
          Saying otherwise is a “…twisted, biased Narrative“?
          Sorry, but (once again) it’s impossible to take a post seriously when it comes from such a twisted, biased perspective.

  3. This is a sober and concise recounting of the prosecutorial misconduct which allowed them to self-manufacture a crime, greatly increase its severity and then impose punishment. Unfortunately, at this point there are no legal avenues open for appeal except for a request for clemency. If nothing else, this is a case crying out for a presidential pardon by our departing President to remedy this miscarriage of justice.

    • Problem is sholom rubashkin does not do drugs and therefore there is no chance that our esteemed outgoing president will pardon him

    • Rubashkin needs to apply for a pardon or clemency. It would be reviewed by the Justice Department. It should be noted that pardons are pretty much unheard of when there are still pending appeals.

      In any case, Obama is the most tough-on-inmates President in at least 120 years. He has granted fewer pardons than any President during that time — only 70. By comparison, Franklin Roosevelt granted 2,819 pardons and Harry Truman 1,913.

      • A few points:
        1) The numbers you quote for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman come from the uspolitics.about website. Other websites have far higher numbers.
        2) President George H.W. Bush had a far lower number of pardons than President Obama does until after he was voted from office. Once he was a lame duck he issued many pardons, which boosted his number – very slightly – above where Obama’s number now is. It’s certain that Obama’s number will exceed Bush’s once he leaves office.
        3) It’s true that Obama has issued a relatively low number of pardons (and that he was supposedly influenced by his dismay at the Marc Rich pardon for its apparent sleaze factor). Nonetheless, he has issued several dozen pardons, presumably where he felt the sentence was particularly unjust, excessive, and/or the petitioner was sufficiently rehabilitated and repentant. The Rubashkin case may well fit the “particularly excessive” criteria, which would hopefully qualify for a commutation if not a pardon.

  4. The 7 years that he has already served are longer than the normal sentence for the crime that he was convicted of (if he was even guilty at all). Letting him out now would not even be clemency – he has more than completed his sentence.

  5. Continue davening for Sholom Mordechai (HaLevi) ben Rivkah. This is a reminder that we are in galus . No doubt he is paying for OUR (mine and yours) sins, a kaporah for the the generation. It is our duty to do what we can, and the minimum is to daven.


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