But an attorney for the former Agriprocessors executive attempts to block the testimony.
BY JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD • WATERLOO-CEDAR FALLS COURIER
Sioux Falls, S.D. — Tensions rose Tuesday afternoon in the fraud trial of a former northeast Iowa meatpacking plant executive when a witness began describing how the company dealt with alleged illegal immigrant employees.
Elizabeth Billmeyer, former human resources manager for Agriprocessors Inc., testified that when she learned employees with false identifications had been placed on a separate payroll, she complained to company executive Sholom Rubashkin.
U.S. District Judge Linda Reade has split Rubashkin's trial into two parts. He is currently on trial for bank fraud allegations; a second trial on immigration charges will follow a week after the first trial concludes.
Defense attorneys used Reade's move to challenge the last part of Billmeyer's testimony.
After the jury was dismissed for the day, Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan Jr. said he needed Billmeyer to testify that she told another human resources employee how to get into her office to retrieve a list of names that didn't have matching Social Security numbers.
The government alleges the list was used to decide which employees to rehire with new identification the day before the May 2008 immigration raid at Agriprocessors.
Deegan said this was crucial in proving Rubashkin lied to the bank about being in full compliance with the law.
Defense attorney Guy Cook argued that allowing the testimony would contradict Reade's reason for splitting the trial, which was intended to ensure Rubashkin receives a fair trial on all charges by not confusing the jury.
Reade said she would rule on the matter today.
In April, Billmeyer pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens for profit and one count of knowingly accepting false resident alien cards
She testified that she agreed to testify in hopes of having her sentenced reduced.
The testimony was the first time Billmeyer had spoken publicly about Agriprocessors.
She testified that in 2005 Agriprocessors received no-match letters from the government - notification its employees did not have matching Social Security numbers - for several hundred employees.
Billmeyer testified that she was trained by a federal immigration agent on how to identify false identification. That's when she learned many employees were using pink resident alien cards, also known as green cards, that were no longer valid.
Billmeyer testified that she spoke to Rubashkin of the problem several times, but for more than two years the company did nothing.
"He said it was his company and he would run it the way he wanted to," she testified.
In April 2007, the company sent letters to employees notifying them of the issue, but delayed action until early in 2008 when Agriprocessors lost a big client and needed to lay off workers, she testified.
The company, sometime in the fall of 2007, placed employees with the false identifications on a separate payroll with a different company, without her knowledge.
After she found out about the separate payroll, Billmeyer testified that she responded on Oct. 19, 2007, with a scathing e-mail to Rubashkin titled "confused and befuddled."
She wrote she had been blamed for problems when the managers do "whatever they want to do with no one above them curtailing their actions," which resulted in "all hell breaking loose."
She wrote that it was not right to hire people with "obviously fake" identification and that "someone could go to jail."
Rubashkin responded by thanking her for her thoughts and assured her no one would blame her.
Tuesday morning, the jury heard testimony about alleged violations of a 1921 law that mandates buyers pay cattle providers by the end of the next business day.
The government alleges that between February and April 2008, Rubashkin violated a 2002 order when the northeast Iowa kosher meat plant failed to make timely payments to livestock sellers.