Nation & World

Former prosecutor says Sholom Rubashkin's early release is result of political influence

Agriprocessors, members of Rubashkin family contributed to political candidates and committees

Sholom M. Rubashkin is vice president of Agriprocessors, Inc. in Postville, Iowa, in December 2004. Rubashkin was sentenced to 27 years in prison for 86 counts of financial crimes as well as lying on the witness stand in 2009. On Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, President Donald Trump commuted his sentence. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Sholom M. Rubashkin is vice president of Agriprocessors, Inc. in Postville, Iowa, in December 2004. Rubashkin was sentenced to 27 years in prison for 86 counts of financial crimes as well as lying on the witness stand in 2009. On Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, President Donald Trump commuted his sentence. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A former federal prosecutor said it makes no sense that President Donald Trump chose to commute the sentence of former Agriprocessors executive officer Sholom Rubashkin, whom the one-time prosecutor called “one of the biggest employers of illegal immigrants.”

“He was building a fortune on the backs of illegal workers and then laundering money through charitable organizations,” Bob Teig, retired assistant U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Iowa, said Friday. “The President got bad advice. The legislators supporting him got fooled.

“I doubt they know the details of the case.”

President Donald Trump on Wednesday commuted the 27-year prison term for Rubashkin, 57, who 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.

The raid was at the time the largest at a single workplace site.

There were 389 undocumented workers charged in that raid. Of those convicted, the majority were given five-month prison terms for identify theft and other charges related to false documents and deported.

Rubashkin, sentenced in 2010 to 27 years, served eight years in prison before being release from Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, N.Y., on Wednesday — the last night of Hanukkah.

He now is at his home in Monsey, Rockland County, N.Y., according to Lower Hudson Valley’s Journal News. The newspaper and CNN reported people stood out in the hamlet’s streets to welcome him home.

The White House on Wednesday noted the commutation is not a pardon, and Rubashkin still will serve five months of supervised release and restitution. He was ordered to pay more than $26 million to a livestock supplier and two banks.

There’s no public filing of what offenders owe or have paid in public court records. The Gazette sent an Freedom of Information request on Friday to the U.S. District Clerk of Courts for those records concerning Rubashkin’s restitution.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Morfitt said the U.S. Attorney’s Office doesn’t comment on pardons or commutations.

Rubashkin also had been charged in state court with 67 misdemeanor child labor law violations in 2010, stemming from the immigration raid. 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.

The sentence wasn’t based on a “judge’s whim,” said Teig, who worked on the case in the beginning. Then-U.S. Chief Judge Linda Reade followed the guidelines that were authorized by Congress. Her sentencing was based on the amount of loss — $26.8 million — for the banks and livestock supplier.

“I don’t know if he’s paid back restitution to the victims,” Teig said. “Where is his public apology? He never admitted any wrongdoing, which is the first step towards rehabilitation.”

According to a White House statement on Wednesday, the President’s decision to commute Rubashkin’s sentence was based on “expressions of support from members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community”

A bipartisan group of more than 100 former high-ranking and Department of Justice officials, prosecutors, judges, and legal scholars said they had concerns about this case and the severity of his sentence, according to the White House.

In addition, more than 30 current members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, have written letters in support of a review of Rubashkin’s case.

According to a data from the Center for Responsive Politics, at OpenSecrets.org, Rubashkin, Agriprocessors and members of the Rubashkin family before and after his conviction were contributors to mostly Republican political candidates and committees.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley is the recipient of some of those political donations, but they were made in 2004. And Grassley’s spokesperson said on Wednesday the Senator did not recommend any action be taken on Rubashkin’s behalf.

The White House, in its statement, also noted that “many have called (Ribashkin’s sentence) excessive in light of its disparity with sentences imposed for similar crimes.”

Teig said Rubashkin and the other Agriprocessors supervisors can’t say they didn’t know they were hiring undocumented workers, that it was proven at Rubashkin’s trial and in the other supervisors’ convictions. Testimony showed Rubashkin and the other supervisors were helping them acquire false documents and had shredded incriminating documents.

During Rubashkin’s trial, prosecutors also presented evidence to show that he 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

The commutation, Teig said, sends the message that “if you have political influence, you can get around the law. You only follow the law if it’s convenient. I guess it might be a deterrence to get eight years.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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