Surprised by the breadth of the affidavits used in the raid against the Rubashkin family's Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa early this week, legal experts believe…
…the US Government is preparing to indict senior plant managers and members of the Rubashkin family.
Widespread Worker Abuses Alleged At AgriProcessors
Federal affadavit could open door to indictment against top kosher meat supplier.
by Debra Nussbaum Cohen
Two legal experts suggested this week that the federal government could be laying the groundwork for possible indictments against the owners of the country’s largest kosher meat manufacturer.
The comments come in the wake of Monday’s raid on AgriProcessors’ slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, when federal authorities entered the plant and arrested 390 workers — more than a third of the company’s workforce — on illegal immigration charges. On Tuesday, 29 workers were charged with crimes including identity theft and using false social security numbers, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“It’s clear [from the affadavit’s allegations] that the government is thinking of an up-the-ladder chain of getting either the whole corporation or some senior managers,” said Marc Stern, general counsel to the American Jewish Congress, who reviewed the affadavit. “There are clearly some supervisors who are at great risk with being charged with harboring aliens in systematic fashion. There’s also a tantalizing thing in there about different-colored paychecks that suggests a slush fund for paying illegals.”
“Whoever from the corporation is involved with that is at great risk,” Stern continued. “They [the government] lay the groundwork for such a charge. But whether they can prove it beyond a supervisory level or will even attempt it is too early to say.”
The affidavit filed by a senior special agent of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department lists dozens of pages of allegations against the company’s owners and supervisors. The document portrays them as exploiters of a vulnerable illegal immigrant work force, and it could be seen as setting the owners and supervisors up for possible indictment.
Allegations include that company owners and supervisors physically abused and exploited workers; knowingly hired workers without legal documentation; altered work records; paid some off the books; and paid them below minimum wage (starting workers at $5 an hour).
In addition, the affadavit alleges that company owners and supervisors fraudulently and forcibly sold them used cars and trucks, threatening that they would be fired if they didn’t buy the vehicles.
“Our company takes the immigration laws seriously,” AgriProcessors said in a statement, adding that it cooperated with the government “in the enforcement action” and will continue to operate during the investigation. It also assured consumers that it is continuing to supply glatt kosher meats and poultry.
AgriProcessors produces about 60 percent of the kosher meat and 40 percent of the kosher poultry in the U.S market.
Washington attorney Nathan Lewin, who has represented AgriProcessors and its owners, the Rubashkin family, in the past, conveyed surprise this week at the breadth of the affadavit’s allegations.
The “fact is there was a lot of material in there that did not seem to be relevant [to the immigration charges]. It has all sorts of allegations [against the owners and supervisors], all sorts of information gleaned from all sorts of places,” he said.
“Whether or not charges are brought against the Rubashkins, that remains to be seen,” Lewin said. He said he does not yet know if he is representing AgriProcessors in this current matter.
He added that he did not believe the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Rubashkins were in talks at the present time.
The affidavit also alleges that an informant saw evidence of methamphetamines being manufactured at the plant.
In the wake of Monday’s raid, the country’s leading kosher supervising agency, the Orthodox Union, expressed concern about the situation.
“The different issues, like immigration, we don’t have expertise or authority in that area but will follow the authorities’ lead,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the OU’s kashrut administrator. The OU is one of the two current kosher certifiers of AgriProcessors products, and the most widely accepted.
“We’ll see where this leads in terms of determinations the government makes,” Rabbi Genack said. “If they find that the company is culpable we will respond. In terms of some of the claims, like drug use, they [the Rubashkins’] say that it’s not true, but I will wait to see what the determination is. If workers there make drugs, whatever it is, and without sanction of management, then it wouldn’t affect us. But if it was with the knowledge of the company then it would affect us,” he said.
If the government concludes that the company’s owners were culpable, “It certainly would be something we would be concerned about,” he said.
The federal investigation dates back to last November, and involved sending in undercover workers who recorded conversations about buying false employment documents.
Beyond the challenge of finding new (and legal) workers to replace those arrested this week, the incident and other related investigations could mean major problems for AgriProcessors’ owners, Brooklyn-based Aaron Rubashkin and his son, Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin, who runs the Iowa plant.
Officials at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department and the U.S. Attorney’s office said that they could make no comment as to whether the Rubashkins will be charged.
Sholom Rubashkin did not return a message left on his cell phone.
At the same time, the U.S Department of Labor and Iowa Department of Labor are investigating AgriProcessors practices. In March, the Iowa Division of Labor Services levied $182,000 in fines against AgriProcessors for 39 health and safety violations.…
Could the Rubashkin family be going down?
It's too early to say for sure, but it sure looks possible.
Special kudos should go to Debra Nussbaum Cohen of the Jewish Week for having the sense (sense that I certainly lacked) to show the affidavits to Stern and Lewin.
[Hat Tip: Seymour.]