Rubashkin trial: State agent tries to identify photos of minors at plant
Blog post by Jens Krogstad • Des Moines Register
3:40 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — The defense said it has run out of witnesses for the day. The jury will return Tuesday morning. Tomorrow the court is closed because of budget cuts, and Monday is Memorial Day.
The final witnesses for today:
Moses Weissmandel, a former supervising rabbi at Agriprocessors, said he walked every area of the plant once a month and always observed workers wearing all their safety equipment.
“Never ever did I see an Agriprocessors worker that appeared to be under 18,” he said.
He spent some time explaining the difference between orthodox, conservative and liberal Jews. He said 170 years ago there was a split in the Jewish community when some wanted to modify or loosen the Jewish codes. Only the orthodox community kept true to the original code of Jewish law.
Hekhsher Tzedek is a conservative kosher certification that he said was started to steal orthodox certification business.
The defense has spent a bulk of time going over the various forces working against Agriprocessors. The list includes: Unions, liberal Jews like those at The Forward, conservative Jews like those pushing the Hekhsher Tzedek kosher certification, PETA, and the Catholic church in Postville.
A former student at Postville’s Jewish boys school said Sholom Rubashkin refused to give him a job at the plant when he was 16.
Eli Pinson, who lives in Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, said Rubashkin also refused to give a job to one of his friends who was a minor.
3:00 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — A construction worker with projects at Agriprocessors said Aaron Rubashkin was clearly in charge of the construction.
Trevor Seibert said he remembered Sholom giving his opinion on a particular project, and his father, Aaron, telling him: “That was dumber than the idea you had yesterday.”
There was no cross-examination from the state.
An orthodox Jewish man from Minnesota said he toured Agriprocessors in 2006 with a rabbi and a federal safety inspector.
They examined every corner of the plant and didn’t find any safety violations.
Carlos Carbonera said he made the trip after reading a now famous expose in a New York City-based Jewish newspaper that alleged horrendous conditions inside the slaughterhouse.
Carbonera said he would have stopped buying the Agriprocessors meat if he had observed any of the problems detailed in the article.
Deputy Iowa Attorney General Thomas H. Miller said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Agriprocessors in 2008 for failing to train employees to assist in an orderly and safe evacuation.
Miller then asked Carbonera if he was aware of safety violations at the plant for failing to post safety evacuation routes and for an ammonia leak.
[How honest is Carbonera? Take a look at this. – Shmarya.]2:30 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — For nearly 45 minutes, defense attorney Mark Weinhardt showed picture after picture of fresh-faced Latino workers he said were over 18 to a state criminal investigator and the jury.
He instructed Jon Turbett, an agent with Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, to try to guess the ages of the laborers in photographs taken during a May 12, 2008 immigration raid at Agriprocessors, a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville.
When the attorney asked Turbett to estimate the age of the person in the first photograph, he guessed 17 or 18 years old, “based solely on this photograph.”
The person in the photograph was over 18, the attorney said.
“There’s a wide, wide difference between those two ages, isn’t there?” Weinhardt said.
Weinhardt suggested Sholom Rubashkin was being prosecuted for his ability to tell the ages of people with frocks and hard hats on. The former plant executive faces 83 misdemeanor child-labor charges.
Turbett responded that Rubashkin is being prosecuted for knowingly allowing minors to work at the plant, and said he believes “that’s the truth.”
“These are hard to pick out, aren’t they?” Weinhardt said.
Weinhardt said some underage workers pleaded guilty to identity theft charges and served time in prison because every person in the federal criminal justice system believed they were over 18.
Upon questioning from the state, Turbett said he never used a photograph as the sole basis for establishing the age of anyone in the case.
1:30 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Sholom Rubashkin’s defense team continued its effort Thursday to discredit the only witness who said the former Agriprocessors executive knew of minors working at the kosher slaughterhouse.
Rabbi Tzvi Bass said former plant supervisor Matthew Derrick never talked to him about children at the kosher slaughterhouse or about working conditions there.
Bass also said he didn’t see any workers he thought were underage in Derrick’s department. Derrick had testified at least half of his employees were underage.
Other plant managers offered similar testimony for the defense yesterday.
On the first day of Rubashkin’s trial on 83 misdemeanor child-labor charges, Derrick said he warned Rubashkin about minors at the plant sometime in 2006 and 2007. Rubashkin just smiled and said nothing in response, Derrick testified.
Bass said he heard Derrick, who testified he cared deeply for his workers, disparage his Guatemalan workers.
Derrick once said they needed to pack “these Mexicanos like sardines and send them back to Mexico,” Bass said.
When Bass pointed out they were Guatemalans, Derrick waved his hand dismissively, he said.
Out of the presence of the jury, Bass said an employee showed him Matthew Derrick, the former Agriprocessors supervisor, kissing an employee named Jennifer Toj. A previous witness, Nilda Nuritza Rucal, said she worked under that name.
Black Hawk County District Associate Judge Nathan Callahan said he won’t allow the testimony to be presented to the jury.
Callahan also didn’t allow the jury to hear a witness who said she overheard someone coaching former Agriprocessors workers in August 2008 on how to receive U-visas.
A former Agriprocessors security director said he never saw anyone walk into the plant he thought was under the age of 18.
Cletus Pladsen of Waukon said everyone had to walk by him to enter the plant for eight years.
On cross-examination, the prosecutor showed him a picture of a young-looking former worker who testified.
“Does that look like an adult to you?” said Deputy Iowa Attorney General Thomas H. Miller.
“No,” Pladsen said.