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Fast Forward

Who Is Sholom Rubashkin?

The jail sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, the kosher meatpacking business owner who was sentenced in 2009 to 27 years in prison on dozens of wire fraud charges, was commuted by President Trump on Wednesday.

Rubashkin and his father, Aaron, opened the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, which eventually became the largest kosher slaughterhouse and meat-packing plant in the country.

The Postville site became the center of controversy for its tensions between longtime locals and two groups of new arrivals: the largely Latino population who arrived to work in the plant, and the Orthodox Jews who supervised its kosher status.

Much reporting — led by groundbreaking exposes from The Forward’s Nathaniel Popper — exposed serious allegations of mistreatment of animals and employees at the plant. Concern driven by reporting on Agriprocessors led some rabbis to create the “Hechsher Tzedek” certification, promising that slaughterhouse employees would be treated ethically.

In May 2008, an immigration raid — the largest in United States history up to that point — led to the arrest of 389 undocumented workers at the Agriprocessors plant.

Business suffered due to the raid and Agriprocessors filed for bankruptcy and was sold (it is now under new ownership and known as Agri Star). Rubashkin was then arrested in 2008 and accused by the federal government of systematically defrauding a bank that had given the company a $35 million loan. He was found guilty of 86 counts of bank fraud in 2009 and sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Soon after he was jailed, a campaign for his release was started. It was members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, of which Rubashkin was a member — though Orthodox Jews from other groups joined in the campaign as well. As the Forward reported in 2010:

Haredi critics have a number of complaints. They point to the large number of counts that multiplied with each successive indictment against Rubashkin, which added up to the 86 counts of bank fraud for which he was found guilty. Rubashkin was not allowed to be free on bail because it was feared that he might flee to Israel — a decision that was seen by his supporters as antisemitic. And finally, the prosecution’s demand that Rubashkin be sentenced to many years in prison is perceived as an unprecedented and discriminatory move based on political calculations.

Rubashkin’s case, which had the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, made its way to the Supreme Court, which rejected his appeal.

But campaigning from Orthodox Jewish groups continued, leading to President Trump commuting his sentence. The White House noted in a statement that freeing Rubashkin was a bipartisan campaign, and that “many have called [his sentence] excessive in light of its disparity with sentences imposed for similar crimes.”

Contact Aiden Pink at [email protected] or on Twitter, @aidenpink

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