The state said Rubashkin failed to act even though he knew minors were working at
the plant. It argued Rubashkin didn’t initiate changes in the hiring
process after several July 2007 firings, and did not respond to a state
subpoena about underage workers for 31 days before the raid.
Blog post by Jens Krogstad • Des Moines Register
4:30 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Roan said Rubashkin failed to act even though he knew minors were working at the plant. She argued Rubashkin didn’t initiate changes in the hiring process after several July 2007 firings, and did not respond to a state subpoena about underage workers for 31 days before the raid.
He also failed to follow-up with information he requested on April 18 in which supervisors had to list the number of their workers who look young, she said.
“He did nothing. He had all of this evidence in his face. He did nothing,” she said.
“The string quartet was playing on the deck of the Titanic as the ship went down. Because this man knew he had the authority to engage an army of lawyers to keep everyone at bay,” she said of the labor investigation.
But then the raid happened.
“In the words of his wife, their lives were shattered.”
The prosecution has rested its case. The defense will make its closing arguments tomorrow.
4:10 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Roan said the evidence proves Rubashkin knew minors worked at the plant.
She presented a document from his law firm that proved in February 2008 he knew of an investigation into minors working at the plant. She reminded the jury of a former plant manger who told Rubashkin of a minor being fired in July 2007. A friend of Rubashkin’s testified he warned him the union was alleging underage workers at the plant. Many of the alleged child laborers who testified were listed in a state labor department memo from early 2008.
“He had three cell phones. He was a communicator and a leader. They lined up to see him. He had information coming up from everywhere. He had the information,” Roan said.
Roan addressed head-on the issue of Matthew Derrick’s testimony about his conversation with Rubashkin. She told the jury to judge his credibility, but noted his testimony was consistent in all other respects with that given by other witnesses.
“The evidence is clear that this man Sholom Rubashkin knew that they had minors working at the plant,” she said. ““The defendant had the nowledge and the authority to do something about it.”
“What is reasonable (action) when you’re told and you’re told and you’re told again?”
3:55 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Roan argues this case requires the jury to find Rubashkin willfully allowed children to work excessive hours at the plant and around dangerous machinery and chemicals.
“There is a mound of evidence that these kids were kids,” she said.
Roan said there is no evidence in this case that sholom Rubashkin sat near the turnstile and accepted applications or signed federal work authorization forms, the I-9 froms.
“When you look at I-9s closely, the majority were one of 2 things – signed by Elizabeth billmeyer or not signed by anyone in Agriprocessors,” she said.
Rather, she said the state argues Rubashkin had both the information about these minors and the authority not to permit the hiring.
Roan said the defense’s own witnesses said Rubashkin was CEO and vice president, and was in charge of the legal department, human resources, finances. The witnesses also said he was involved in production and had problems finding enough workers, Roan said.
There was lots of testimony that he was on the plant floor, and that it was obvious minors worked at the plant, she said. Matthew Derrick, a former supervisor, even warned Rubashkin about underage workers, she said.
3:45 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Former Agriprocessors supervisor Mark Spangler said he supervised the chicken department and it was like a “junior high gymnasium.”
Matthew Derrick, another former supervisor, also testified that most of the workers he supervised in the chicken department were minors.
“The evidence is firm and numerous that there were dozens of kids on the floor of the plant on the day of the raid, May 12, 2008,” Roan said.
She noted the labor investigation in 2008 turned up 60 names. She throws the names and pictures of other minors she hasn’t covered yet.
3:35 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Luis Eduardo Toj Gomez started working at Agriprocessors because his mother became ill. He attended Postville schools and played soccer with another witness.
He took pieces of meat off of a conveyor belt and into a meat grinder. He occasionally used a forklift, and worked with dry ice.
On the day of raid, he was arrested and released to an uncle. He returned to Postville High School and played soccer. Luis is the last of kids who worked in excess of 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week. Payroll records show he worked as many as 82 hours per week.
Rosita Trejo Penales began working at Agriprocessors when she was 15. She obtained work by claiming she was 25. She worked on an automated chicken line, and removed fat and excrement from beef. She cleaned her knife with bleach.
For six months she tried to work the night shift and attend school.
“She couldn’t do it,” Roan said.
Floriberta Valenzo Morales said was hired at 15.
The defense has claimed that the witnesses were coached. But Roan said her testimony would be surprising if she was. Morales told the jury Agriprocessors demanded she provide a birth certificate before she was hired because they had reason to suspect she was a minor.
3:15 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — The judge has called for 15-minute break.
David Alvaro Ajin Garcia was flown back to Iowa for the trial. He salted chickens and worked around dry ice.
Nilda Nuritza Rucal was hired at age 15. Hired as quality control worker. She dipped stick in a solution and measured concentration of chemicals. Rucal said she worked the night shift with other minors, as others have testified. Rucal had quit before the raid.
Government inspectors came to her house a few weeks before the raid, when her younger brother who was working at Agriprocesors. She and her mother didn’t allow the inspectors to speak with her brother, who was sleeping inside.
Roan explained why so many workers lied about their ages, and those of others.
“She did not want to identify any other minors workers. She was personally and sorely conscious and of the financial pressures those families from Guatemala faced,” Roan said.
Gerardo Solovi Perez was hired at age 16. He testified he was rejected on his first application, and returned with fake documents. He said he used bleach in the chicken department and worked around dry ice, like so many other workers, Roan said.
2:56 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Gilda Yoanda Ordonez Lopez said she stood on a box to reach the chickens, Roan reminded the jury. She said it was very obvious other minors worked at the plant. She testified she put bleach on the floor that caused headaches, irritated her eyes and burned her nose.
Ronio Oloniel Ordonez Capir turned 18 just before the raid. The feds determined his age and prosecuted him as an adult, and spent time in a federal prison. He used chlorine on the job.
Augustin Obispo Porras Chuy said he put meat into a grinder and cleaned his area with powerhoses and chemicals.
Johel Eduardo Rucal’s time cards show he worked more than 40 hours per week and eight hours per day. His time card showed he worked as many 70 hours per week. One week he worked nearly 58 hours in four days.
2:42 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Alvaro Rene Ravaric, like a few other child laborers, served time in federal prison because he was 18 at the time of a May 2008 immigration raid. Roan said this further proves the ages of the workers.
He cut the heads off chickens, and worked the night shift, Roan said.
Osbeli Osiel Junech Hernandez worked for Brian Griffith, a supervisor. He testified he cleaned his tools with chemicals during his break. He was detained by the federal government in a juvenile detention center, further proof the workers’ ages are true, Roan suggests.
Henry Lopez Calel was hired at Agriprocessors twice. He testified he was four-foot, six-inches tall and weight 120 pounds. He testified the chemicals he worked around caused him to cough up blood.
Alfredo Marroquin Argueta. “The feds got this one right, too,” Roan said of his age. He was held in a federal juvenile detention center for three months. He told the jury he worked around bleach.
Luis Alberto Nava Gonzalez. “You might recall this was probably the class clown,” Roan said, referring to his courtroom antics as one of the prosecution’s last witnesses.
He used a machine-driven power saw to slice through beef carcasses. He testified that he did the job and not the rabbi supervisors, whom he called lazy.
He said the same woman who turned him away a week earlier, hired him when he presented a second set of documents.
“He came back with different papers and he was hired,” Roan said. When Nava Gonzalez entered the plant there was nothing more than “little Mexicans and little Guatemalans” in there, Roan reminded the jury.
He was one of the workers who testified a plant human resources employee, most likely Karina Freund, told him to lie to labor inspectors in April 2008 about his age.
2:30 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Elizandro Gomez Lopez started working at Agriprocessors at age 13. His false I-9 work document claimed he was 20, Roan said.
He told the jury he sprayed chemicals onto the plant floor. When he worked in the sausage department, he said he worked around a machine that de-skinned the animal.
Elizandro Gomez Lopez’s payroll records show he worked more than 40 hours per week and 8 hours per day.
Marcos Alexander Guerra Garcia was hired at 16. “Marcos was a good worker,” Roan said. He told the jury his job was to use a metal hook to pull packages of meat onto a conveyer belt. Roan grips the hook and shows it to the jury.
Garcia said he worked with green chemicals that stung his nose.
Yukari Hernandez Gonzalez began working at Agriprocessors when she was 15. She was born in January 1990. She told the jury her job was to cut meat and seal boxes. When she started working there, she said she weighed 92 pounds. The sleeves of her oversized frock once caught on a powered conveyor belt, and started to carry her down the line. She said her arm was purple and swollen.
She told the jury she worked with a pink chemical that caused a rash. Roan then attacks one of the defense’s main contentions about the chemicals not being dangerous. She said the chemicals burned skin and would be harmful when swallowed. Determining the danger of the chemicals “is not rocket science.”
“Many times through this trial, there was discussion about concentrations, diluted chemicals, household strength…If you want to call it a household chemical, ask yourself what the plain meaning is of dangerous. Use your common sense, your own intelligence.”
2:21 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Ana Lopez was 14 when she started working at Agriprocessors. She worked in the poultry kill department, and worked around dry ice. When she touched it once, she said she felt a burning sensation. “That’s exposure,” Roan explains. “They smell it and it burns. They breathe it and it hurts in their throats.”
She worked around a machine-powered conveyor belt, and testified she never went to school. Roan points to her employment records that prove she worked more than eight hours a day, and more than 40 hours per week.
Lopez worked under false documents, like all the other child laborers in the case, Roan said.
Noe Castillo Ordonez said he disinfected tools with bleach, and worked around dry ice. The chemicals irritated his eyes and nose, he testified.
Yesenia Cordero Mendoza started working at age 15. She testified she learned about the job from her classmates. “This was not an uncommon thing. This came up in the testifmony again and again,” Roan said.
She testified her supervisor sent kids home on the day of the raid. She said she took the temperature of meat, which was packed in dry ice. She said she also developed a rash from dipping tools in chemicals.
Mendoza told the jury she worked at Agriprocessors as a summer job before eventually coming on full time.
2:11 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — “Let’s talk about the kids,” Roan says. She shows pictures of each child she talks about.
She shows a picture of Elmer Lopez Marroquin smiling and cross-armed outside of the Postville Catholic church. Lopez Marroquin was one of three individuals pulled off plant floor by labor inspectors on April 4, 2008.
A human resource employee, Karina Freund, told him he didn’t have to tell his real age and that if he told the truth it would cause the plant trouble. He told the truth anyway, he testified. He was 17. He said trimmed beef tongues, and used chemicals that burned his nose.
Brayan Melendez started working at the kosher slaughterhouse at age 13. “He said he worked sesven days a week in sanitation. Seven days a week,” Roan said. He also worked more than eight hours a days. She shows employment records that back up his statement.
Melendez testified he worked with a red chemical that burned his eyes and throat, and used power hoses.
2:00 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan begins closing arguments for the state. She is walking through all the five divisions of charges with the jury, as explained in my previous post.
She points to a stack of payroll records and federal I-9 work authorization forms and tells jury this is how they will determine if the 26 alleged child laborers in fact worked at Agriprocessors between Sept. 9, 2007 and May 12, 2008.
Rubashkin appeared relaxed in chatting with his wife and children just before the closings, and is now leaning back in his chair listening. The courtroom is about half full. Supporters for the state, which include members of St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, are seated on one side and Rubashkin’s family is on the other. There are a couple of video cameras rolling, one is from local news and the other from a documentary filmmaker. The jury is attentive and looking through stacks of papers as prosecutor explains charges.
1:34 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Closing arguments to begin after 15-minute break.
Quick refresher on legal system from 30 minutes of jury instructions:
Sholom Rubashkin has pleaded not guilty to all 67 misdemeanor child-labor charges, and claims he was ignorant or mistaken of the age of workers, if they were underaged. Rubashkin is presumed innocent.
The state must prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt — “one that fairly and naturally arises from the evidence or lack of evidence presented by state. It’s the kind of doubt that would make a reasonable person hesitate to act.”
Here’s a breakdown of the counts. The state claims Rubashkin willfully allowed the violations to take place between Sept. 9, 2007 and May 12, 2008:
* 26 counts of child labor at an occupation in or about a slaughtering or meat packing establishment. (under age 18)
* 26 counts of child labor involving exposure to dangerous or poisonous chemicals. (under age 18)
* 5 counts of child labor during prohibited times and/or for a prohibited number of hours in one day (worked more than 8 hours and under age 16)
* 5 counts of child labor for a prohibited number of hours in one week (worked more than 40 hours and under age 16)
* 5 counts of child labor involved in the operation or tending of power-driven machinery. (under age 16)
One other note: Rubashkin’s attorneys said he didn’t testify, in part, because that would have allowed his federal financial fraud felonies into evidence.
1:00 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Judge is scheduled to start reading jury instructions in a couple minutes. Did some math over the break, and by my count Sholom Rubashkin faces up to 5 ½ years (2,010 days) in prison if found guilty on all 67 misdemeanor child labor counts. Each misdemeanors is punishable by up to 30 days in jail plus a fine.