UPDATE: Rubashkin jury: Guilty on 86 of 91 charges
By JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD • Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. --- A South Dakota jury delivered a devastating defeat to former Agriprocessors executve Sholom Rubashkin Thursday afternoon, finding him guilty on all but five of 91 counts of financial fraud.
After four weeks of testimony that included dozens of witnesses and mountains of evidence, the seven-woman, five-man jury filed into the courtroom with solemn faces shortly after 4:35 p.m. to deliver their verdict.
They took nearly two full days to hand down what may be a life sentence to Rubashkin, 50. He faces up to 1,255 years year in prison.
The married father of 10 was convicted of bank, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and failing to pay livestock providers in a timely manner.
The decision arrived exactly 18 months since a May 12, 2008, immigration raid on his family's kosher meatpacking plant in Postville resulted in the arrest of 389 workers.
The jury acquitted Rubashkin on five of 20 counts of failing to pay livestock providers in a timely manner as required by federal law. Each of those counts carries a potential five-year sentence.
It is still unknown where Rubashkin will be held until a hearing on Wednesday in Cedar Rapids. It will determine if he should be freed until a second trial on 72 immigration charges that is scheduled for Dec. 2.
After the verdict was read, defense attorneys renewed a motion to dismiss all 10 counts of money laundering because Rubashkin did not profit from the crime.
When Rubashkin walked into the courtroom with his wife to learn his fate, he tossed his black fedora hat on the bench next to her and took his seat at the defense table.
A quiet fell over the courtroom as U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade's monotone voice announced a steady stream of unanimous guilty verdicts for 45 minutes. The jury kept its gaze on the judge as it affirmed the unanimous decisions with a raise of their hands.
Sholom Rubashkin sometimes scribbled notes and whispered to his attorneys, but otherwise appeared calm. At times his family whispered and smiled to each other, and Rubashkin once turned to look at his wife and flashed a tired, defeated smile. His supporters filled most of one half of the gallery.
On the steps outside the downtown federal court building in front of TV cameras and flashing bulbs, Rubashkin's attorney Guy Cook promised to appeal the verdict.
"It was a difficult case. We appreciate the not guilty verdicts that were rendered, we nevertheless disagree with the other verdicts, and an appeal is certain," he said.
Rubashkin's wife, Leah, said hearing the stream of guilty verdicts was "not a pleasant thing," and remains confident of his innocence.
"We're looking forward to continue this and get the verdict we feel his deserves," she said.
Rubashkin and his lawyers briefly discussed his dietary and religious needs with the court marshal before being escorted into custody. As Rubashkin was led out of the courtroom, he turned and blew a kiss to his family as his son, Getzel Rubashkin, 25, sang a song of prayer. Getzel later said the tune carried a message to keep the faith.
Getzel and Rubashkin's oldest daughter, Roza Weiss, remained hopeful and defiant minutes after the courtroom emptied.
"We're Jewish and we're proud of it. That's my one comment," Weiss said.
Getzel, meanwhile, said he sought refuge in his faith.
"We're in God's hands and it will be good," he said.
In convicting Rubashkin, the jury sided with the prosecution's portrait of Rubashkin as the scheming leader of a company that lied and cheated its lender, St. Louis-based First Bank Business Capital, out of millions of dollars.
They rejected the defense's argument that Rubashkin was a deeply religious and dedicated family man with little formal business training who was guilty only of incompetent management.
For more than two weeks, government prosecutors in painstaking detail presented Rubashkin as a key player in the massive fraud; a man who created, or directed his employees to create, fake invoices, divert customer payments and lie to the bank about its compliance with immigration law.
Rubashkin committed the crimes, they said, to inflate his company's assets to receive millions of dollars in loans it would otherwise have not received.
All the while he disguised the fraud by laundering $20 million through Torah Education of Northeast Iowa and the Kosher Community Grocery Store in Postville, two organizations controlled by Agriprocessors.
Defense attorneys repeatedly emphasized the bank failed to properly audit the company. They suggested the bank looked the other way when it received fake invoices because it made at least $13.5 million on asset-based loans that carried high interest rates.
Rubashkin was first arrested on immigration charges nearly five months after the raid. Shortly thereafter, First Bank Business Capital filed a lawsuit against Agriprocessors claiming it had defaulted on a $35 million loan.
Weeks later, the plant filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Rubashkin was arrested again, this time on financial fraud charges.
A court-appointed trustee then operated the plant until it was sold in August this year to Hershey Friedman, a Canadian businessman, who renamed the company Agri Star Meat and Poultry LLC.