Judge in Rubashkin case refuses to order mistrial
BY JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD • WATERLOO-CEDAR FALLS COURIER
Sioux Falls, S.D. — Attorneys for former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin twice filed motions for a mistrial Wednesday after a key government witness divulged details of illegal immigrants working at the company.
U.S. District Judge Linda Reade rejected the motions, allowing the trial to proceed.
Defense lawyer Guy Cook argued that testimony about the alleged hiring and harboring of illegal immigrants at the northeast Iowa meat plant would result in the bank fraud case suffering a "death by a thousand cuts."
Defense attorneys took exception to the amount of details allowed, because Reade had split the trial into two parts.
Rubashkin is on trial on 91 fraud charges, which will be followed by a separate trial on 72 immigration charges. As part of the fraud charges, the government alleges Rubashkin lied to the plant's bank by failing to mention the company had illegal immigrants on staff. The charges stem from a May 2008 raid in which 389 employees were arrested.
In her decision to split the trial, Reade said allowing all charges at once could unfairly prejudice the jury, allowing evidence for one group of charges to be applied to others.
The development had a visible effect on Rubashkin, who managed a few brief smiles with his attorneys when he wasn't taking notes.
Cook accused prosecutors of cherry-picking the best evidence from the upcoming immigration trial to sway the jury. He called it a "powerful potion to pour in front of the jury."
Government prosecutor C.J. Williams argued he was limiting the amount of evidence to comply with the judge's order.
At the conclusion of testimony Wednesday, Reade reprimanded Cook for broaching the forbidden topics of possible union activity at the plant and the personal struggles of the Rubashkin family in an attempt to gain sympathy from the jury.
Reade said Cook was right "on the line" of finding himself in major trouble.
On Tuesday, former human resources manager Elizabeth Billmeyer testified in detail that Rubashkin, a former plant executive, knew for several years that illegal immigrants worked at the plant but did nothing.
Billmeyer on Wednesday said that instead of raises, she received one week of insurance premiums not deducted from her paycheck and additional cash payments from Rubashkin.
On cross-examination, defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown sought to blame Billmeyer for failing to discover illegal immigrant applicants.
"Someone was asleep at the switch for a couple of years, and hundreds of illegal aliens were hired," Brown said.
Laura Althouse, a former Agriprocessors payroll employee, corroborated much of Billmeyer's testimony that Rubashkin had direct knowledge of illegal immigrant workers at the plant.
Althouse said that the day before the raid, Rubashkin walked in and out of the office where she was re-hiring workers with new and false identification cards. She said Rubashkin took the paperwork back to his office.
On questioning from the defense, Althouse said Agriprocessors attorneys were present the morning of the raid to assist in the hiring process.
In May, Althouse pleaded guilty of conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants.