In an unusual move, prosecutors in the trial of kosher meatpacking executive Sholom Rubashkin have publicly decried a “concerted campaign” by Rubashkin’s defenders that they said aimed to portray them as “racists, Nazis, and zealots.”
“This office followed the law, stood silent in the face of vicious and false accusations, and worked to the conclusion of the case,” wrote Stephanie M. Rose, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, in a press statement released June 22 — the same day that Rubashkin received a 27-year prison sentence on bank fraud charges. “Silence is no longer in order.”
The letter rebuts criticism of the May 12, 2008, raid of the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, and of the prosecution of Rubashkin. It explicitly denies charges of bias based on Rubashkin’s Orthodox Jewish faith.
“[C]laims Rubashkin’s religious beliefs led to his prosecution have no foundation. His faith had nothing to do with his crimes, prosecution, or punishment,” Rose wrote.
The letter notes that nine lower-level managers and office workers at Agriprocessors pleaded guilty to other charges, and that Rubashkin himself profited from the bank fraud.
“Uncontroverted evidence at trial showed that, during just the two years immediately preceding May 2008, Rubashkin funneled about $1.5 million from Agriprocessors’ accounts to his personal bank accounts,” Rose wrote. “Hundreds of thousands of those dollars paid his personal credit card bills, remodeled his home, paid his taxes, paid his personal mortgage, bought jewelry and silver, and made his car payments.”
In a lengthy statement issued in response to Rose’s press release, Rubashkin attorney Nathan Lewin asserted, “To my knowledge, no responsible supporter of Mr. Rubashkin has said or implied that anyone on the prosecution team is a racist or a Nazi.”
But Lewin seemed to stand by the characterization of Rose as a zealot. “A consensus of the legal community, including six former U.S. Attorneys General, both liberal and conservative, have objected to Ms. Rose’s overzealousness in her initial sentencing recommendation,” he wrote.
Rose’s press statement makes an attempt to dispel what it says are false claims about the treatment of illegal workers during the immigration raid on the plant and at the National Cattle Congress grounds, where detainees were taken and processed. The prosecutor maintains that the workers were not mistreated, that a representative from the Guatemalan Consulate visited them and approved of their conditions, and that they had access to phones and televisions.
“The fact that some detractors have made false claims of prodding people down cattle chutes and other imagined abuses says more about those detractors’ personal agendas than it does about the real events in May 2008,” the prosecutor wrote.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.