Aaron Rubashkin, Agriprocessors' founder, testifies in son's trial
BY GRANT SCHULTE • Des Moines Register
Abraham Aaron Rubashkin, who opened the Postville slaughterhouse in 1987 to process kosher meat, told jurors that he mortgaged his home, two buildings that he owned and his store in Brooklyn, N.Y after the May 2008 raid.
The effort ultimately failed, as the plant run by his two sons slipped into bankruptcy the following November. Rubashkin spoke during his son’s 91-count financial fraud trial in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Sholom Rubashkin, Aaron's son, is charged with mail, wire and bank fraud, money laundering and failing to pay livestock providers on time. Sholom Rubashkin has pleaded not guilty.
Defense lawyers called the elder Rubashkin, who goes by “Aaron,” to contest the charges.
Aaron Rubashkin said he managed to gather between $4 million and $5 million from his personal assets after the raid. “We tried to get all the help we could,” he said.
He said he was unaware of any illegal immigrants working at the plant, and had trusted the plant’s human resources manager, Elizabeth Billmeyer before the raid that snagged 389 illegal workers.
“I used to trust her. She is a very strong woman,” Aaron Rubashkin said. “I cannot understand how this happened.”
Aaron Rubashkin stirred whispers from supporters in the public gallery as he entered the courtroom. The Rubashkin family patriarch was sworn in, and smiled and waved at jurors as he stepped to the witness stand.
Attorneys also showed Aaron Rubashkin photos, outside the jury’s presence, of the Rubashkins with prominent politicians. Included in the images were U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, and former U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle.
U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade has not allowed the photos into the trial for several reasons, including prosecutors objections that the photos lacked a legal foundation to be included in trial.
Aaron Rubashkin will continue to testify this afternoon.
In his 2000 book Postville, Stephen Bloom documented Aaron Rubashkin himself funneled illegal undocumented workers from Brooklyn to Postville.
Agriprocessors founder allegedly unaware of illegal workersBy GRANT SCHULTE • Des Moines Register SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - The man who founded Agriprocessors Inc. told a federal jury Tuesday that he did not understand how illegal immigrants arrested during a massive raid had come to work in his eastern Iowa meat plant.
Abraham "Aaron" Rubashkin, who opened the Postville slaughterhouse in 1987, testified that he had trusted the company's human resources manager, Elizabeth Billmeyer, to weed out undocumented workers.
"I used to trust her. She is a very strong woman," Rubashkin said. "I cannot understand how this happened."
Rubashkin's statements about immigrant workers and the struggle to revive his business after a May 2008 raid came during week four of his son's 91-count financial fraud trial in South Dakota.
His son, Sholom Rubashkin, faces a maximum 1,280-year prison sentence if convicted of charges that include bank, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and ignoring an order to pay livestock provider in the 24 hours required by law.
Billmeyer told jurors last week that she repeatedly warned Sholom Rubashkin about the illegal immigrants who worked at the plant, but saw no changes for more than two years. She testified that Agriprocessors received "no match" letters from the federal government that showed hundreds of employees with incorrect Social Security numbers.
She also complained in an October 2007 e-mail that she had been blamed for problems when the managers do "whatever they want to do with no one above them curtailing their actions."
Aaron Rubashkin also was known to visit the plant frequently, witnesses have testified, although Sholom handled day-to-day operations.
With a thick Russian accent, Aaron Rubashkin detailed his failed attempts to keep the plant operational after the immigration raid, which snagged 389 illegal workers and crippled production.
He said he spent "every penny" he could gather - from his own finances, and others in the Jewish community - trying to recover. The elder Rubashkin told jurors that he mortgaged his own home, two buildings that he owned and his store in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Aaron Rubashkin said he managed to gather between $4 million and $5 million, but the effort failed. Agriprocessors Inc. filed for bankruptcy in November 2008, and emerged under new ownership.
Aaron Rubashkin stirred whispers from supporters in the public gallery as he entered the courtroom. The Rubashkin family patriarch was sworn in, then smiled and waved at jurors as he stepped to the witness stand.
Defense lawyers also called Sholom Rubashkin's wife, Leah, as a character witness. Leah Rubashkin described her husband as a "very warm, giving, caring person who's loyal and dedicated. He has a tremendous respect for his parents and his religion."
Leah Rubashkin said her husband worked constantly before the raid, rising as early as 4:30 a.m. for prayers and then heading to Agriprocessors. He returned in the evenings for supper, time with their children and to spread work papers out over their dining table.
Her husband of 28 years "was kind of like a firefighter" as they moved from New York to Atlanta to St. Paul, Minn., to Postville, she said. "Wherever the fire was, that's where he went."
Defense lawyer Guy Cook said his team plans to call six additional witnesses on Wednesday. Sholom Rubashkin is expected to testify in his own defense on Thursday, and lawyers likely will present closing arguments on Monday before handing the case to a jury.
[Hat Tip for the update: Neighbor Girl.]