In the case of a former Postville meatpacking executive, political clout appears to have once again thwarted justice. While the scenario does little to ease our cynicism regarding the existence of two paths of justice — one for the rich, and another for the poor — our focus is on the remaining thin silver lining.
President Donald Trump commuted the 27-year federal prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, former vice president of the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville. The plant was owned by Aaron Rubashkin, Sholom’s father, and several family members were involved in its operation in May 2008 when federal authorities raided the facility on suspected immigration violations.
Nearly 400 workers faced a federal judge, many pleading guilty to criminal charges before deportation to their countries of origin, primarily Guatemala and Mexico. Lower-level managers at the plant faced similar fates, some sentenced to federal prison for their part in what was at the time the largest immigration raid in U.S. history.
Sholom Rubashkin, who served as Agriprocessors’ day-to-day manager, initially was charged with several crimes — child labor violations by the state, immigration, bank fraud and money laundering at the federal level. It was the money, and the Rubashkin family’s overt attempts to hinder and evade the law, that were Sholom’s downfall. Immigration-related charges were set aside once the executive had been prosecuted and convicted of fraud in 2009, and Rubashkin was acquitted on the child labor violations while awaiting federal sentencing.*
While Rubashkin offered payments to witnesses to flee the country or keep their mouths shut and destroyed other incriminating evidence, prosecutors proved beyond any doubt that financial lenders and business suppliers were bilked out of more than $26 million. The case, since appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, has withstood scrutiny.
It was by political decree, and not the hands of justice, that Rubashkin was released to his family in New York. Because his sentence was commuted, Rubashkin will continue to serve a period of supervised release and need to provide restitution. The statute of limitations has expired on the other atrocities in Postville. No doubt it’s a small consequence, and far less than what was deserved, but it is a consequence.
We hope Rubashkin will quickly make good on these remaining legal obligations, and remain in New York.
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* - An earlier version of this editorial stated that immigration and child labor charges were set aside once Rubashkin had been convicted of fraud. While Rubashkin awaited federal sentencing in June 2010, he was acquitted in state court on all 67 counts of allowing minors to work in the Postville slaughterhouse.