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President Donald Trump on Wednesday commuted the prison sentence of former executive officer of the now-bankrupt Agriprocessors, Sholom Rubashkin, who was serving a 27-year sentence for bank and wire fraud.
The president was encouraged by bipartisan leaders from 'across the political spectrum” - including U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi to Sen. Orrin Hatch - according to a White House statement.
Rubashkin, 57, was convicted in 2009 on 86 federal counts of bank, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and failure to pay livestock providers in a timely manner. The charges stemmed from a 2008 immigration raid at Agriprocessors, a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville.
Nearly 400 undocumented workers were charged in that raid.
Rubashkin was sentenced in 2010 to 27 years in federal prison.
During his trial, prosecutors presented evidence to show that Rubashkin fabricated fake collateral for loans, ordered employees to create false invoices and directed millions of dollars that were laundered through what was described as a 'secret bank account” - Torah Education - causing more than $26 million in losses to banks.
Prosecutors didn't pursue immigration charges they initially brought against Rubashkin after he was convicted on the fraud charges.
Rubashkin, father of 10 children, has served eight year of his sentence, which many called excessive in comparison to others convicted on similar crimes, the White House statement said.
The White House noted this isn't a Presidential pardon, nor does it vacate Rubashkin's conviction. He still will serve five years of supervised release and restitution set as part of his original sentence.
He was ordered to pay more $26 million to two banks and a livestock supplier.
'The President's review of Mr. Rubashkin's case and commutation decision were based on expressions of support from members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community,” according to White House statement.
A bipartisan group of more than 100 former high-ranking and distinguished Department of Justice officials, prosecutors, judges, and legal scholars said they had concerns about Rubashkin's case and the severity of his sentence, according to the White House.
In addition, more than 30 current members of Congress have written letters in support of a review of Rubashkin's case.
Sixteen Republican and 16 Democrat senators and representatives who expressed concerns and supported a review of the case, the statement noted.
Also among them were former U.S. Department of Justice officials who wanted a review of the case - Attorney General Bill Barr, Attorney General Edwin Meese III, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Solicitor General Seth Waxman and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, according to the White House statement.
Iowa's Sen. Chuck Grassley, Judiciary Committee chairman, did not recommend any action be taken on behalf of Rubashkin, Michael Zona, Grassley's deputy press secretary, said in a statement Wednesday.
'Under the U.S. Constitution, the president alone has the power to commute sentences for federal crimes,” he added.
In January, then-U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade denied a post-conviction appeal from Rubashkin's lawyers asking for a new sentencing hearing and other post-conviction relief that would have released Rubashkin before 2033. They also asked her to recuse herself, which she also denied.
In the filing, Rubashkin lawyers claimed prosecutors interfered with the bankruptcy sale of the plant, which caused the $27 million loss to banks and significantly increased Rubashkin's prison time.
That motion also claimed prosecutors improperly used the threat of criminal forfeiture against potential buyers to get involved in Agriprocessors' bankruptcy case, so they could impose restrictions on the sale. Prosecutors also withheld information from a key cooperating witness regarding financial transactions they claimed as money laundering, according to the motion.
Rubashkin's lawyers further claimed Agriprocessors's assets were worth more than $68 million in June 2008, but was sold at auction for only $8.5 million because of the prosecutors' misconduct. Prosecutors knew a forfeiture would drive down the purchase price, and therefore, create a loss for the bank to help their financial fraud case and increase Rubashkin's prison term, according to the motion.
Prosecutors denied the claims and Reade, in her ruling, said prosecutors didn't 'conceal any information that materially affected the outcome” of the sentencing or any other misleading testimony.
'Rusbashkin orchestrated a massive criminal scheme that impacted a very large community, that is, defrauded financial institutions for approximately 10 years, harbored an illegal workforce and laundered millions of dollars in an effort to provide kosher products across the nation,” she said in the ruling.
Reade went on to say that Rubashkin repeatedly tried to 'obstruct justice” when his criminal scheme was discovered and never fully accepted responsibility for his wrongdoing.
In response to Rubashkin's motion, former Department of Justice officials and others concerned about the case, in opinion columns of the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, called on then-President Barack Obama to free Rubashkin or commute his sentence.
But Obama denied his commutation request Aug. 8, 2016.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year upheld Judge Reade's ruling and wouldn't hear Rubashkin's post-conviction appeal.
Rubashkin also had been charged in state court with 67 misdemeanor child labor law violations in 2010, stemming from the 2008 immigration raid at the plant. But a jury acquitted him after his lawyers argued he shouldn't be held liable for employing teens who 'tricked” the company by using fake documents.
Allegations arose during that trial that claimed some Agriprocessors supervisors harassed and had sex with female workers in a storage room at the plant.
Trump's action was the president's first commutation. He pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona in August.
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