By JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD • Des Moines Register
Waterloo, Ia. — Despite repeated warnings about underage workers at the slaughterhouse he oversaw, former Agriprocessors Inc. executive Sholom Rubashkin did nothing about the allegations for nearly two years, a state prosecutor argued Wednesday.
Rubashkin failed to change the hiring process after the plant fired several underage workers in July 2007, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan told the jury during her 2½-hour closing argument Wednesday afternoon.
Rubashkin faces 67 misdemeanor child labor charges, each punishable by up to 30 days in prison. The state alleges the former executive allowed minors to work excessive hours and around dangerous machinery and chemicals. He faces a sentence of up to 5½ years.
Rubashkin's defense team will make its closing arguments today in a trial that has stretched into a fifth week.
Rubashkin failed to investigate allegations from friends and employees, and did not respond for 31 days to a state subpoena requesting information for a state labor investigation just before an immigration raid, Roan told jurors.
"He did nothing. He had all of this evidence in his face. He did nothing," she said.
Federal agents raided the plant on May 12, 2008, and, as his wife, Leah Rubashkin, testified this week, "their lives were shattered," Roan 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," Roan said of the labor investigation.
Rubashkin stared ahead as the prosecution presented its case. Rubashkin's supporters in the gallery at times muttered their disapproval of the prosecution's case.
For more than an hour, Roan showed picture after picture to the four-woman, three-man jury of 26 alleged child laborers named in the state's complaint.
Some former workers testified that they began employment at Agriprocessors at age 13, while others claimed to be 10 years older on their false documents.
Time cards showed some worked in excess of 80 hours per week, Roan told the jury. Many said they often worked around dry ice and bleach, she said.
Roan reminded jurors of the testimony of Luis Alberto Nava Gonzalez, who said he used a large power saw to split beef carcasses in half. Gonzalez told the jury the same woman who turned him away a week earlier hired him when he presented a second set of fake documents.
"He came back with different papers and he was hired," Roan said. When Nava Gonzalez entered the plant, he noticed only "little Mexicans and little Guatemalans" working on the floor, Roan reminded the jury.
No evidence exists that Rubashkin personally hired any of the minors, Roan said. However, she argued that ample testimony and physical evidence proves Rubashkin was warned early and repeatedly about child laborers at the plant.
Moreover, she said, he was in a position to do something about it.
Roan urged jury members to use common sense and to ask themselves how a reasonable person would act when presented with the information Rubashkin received about child laborers at Agriprocessors.
"What is reasonable when you're told and you're told and you're told again?" she said.