Former CEO of Iowa Kosher Meatpacking Plant Is Arrested

Sholom Rubashkin of Agriprocessors.
Sholom Rubashkin of Agriprocessors. (Arturo Fernandez - AP)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2008

The former chief executive of the Iowa kosher meatpacking plant that was the site of a large immigration raid in May was arrested yesterday on federal conspiracy charges involving harboring illegal immigrants for financial gain and aiding and abetting document fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Federal officials allege that Sholom Rubashkin, son of Agriprocessors founder Abraham Aaron Rubashkin, intentionally helped illegal workers obtain false documentation. The new charges come one day after the Iowa labor commissioner fined the company $10 million for wage violations.

The Rubashkins and other company officials were charged Sept. 9 with more than 9,000 misdemeanor violations of state child labor laws over an eight-month period ending with the May 12 raid. The charges involved 32 minors, some younger than 16, who allegedly were exposed to dangerous chemicals and were operating meat grinders, circular saws and other heavy machinery.

During the raid at the Postville plant, among the country's largest suppliers of kosher meat, agents detained 389 undocumented workers. About 300 have pleaded guilty to federal charges of identity theft. Most of those received five months in prison and were ordered deported.

The raid and ensuing group trials became a rallying point for immigrants' rights groups, who decried that no charges had been filed against company owners or top managers. This week, a human resources employee pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft and conspiracy charges, and two meatpacking supervisors and another human resources employee are facing criminal charges. Agriprocessors did not return calls.

"For years, Agriprocessors used a broken immigration system to exploit workers and to drive down working conditions, and it appears it's finally caught up," said Scott Frotman, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which had been organizing at the plant since 2005. "It really does appear the Rubashkins developed their business plan directly from Upton Sinclair's 'The Jungle.' I think this shows this behavior was systemic throughout the company's operation."

Since the raid, elected officials, rabbis and labor leaders have visited Postville to gather testimony about unpaid overtime, dangerous working conditions and floor supervisors' taking bribes for jobs.

"Today, we are seeing concrete accountability in Postville, though it should not have taken the destruction of a town and cost more than 5 million taxpayer dollars to get here," said U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.).

Robert Teig, assistant U.S. attorney for the northern district of Iowa, said the investigation, which started more than a year ago, is ongoing.

According to a federal affidavit, Rubashkin, 49, lent a supervisor $4,500 to pay for fake documents for about 40 employees. A worker told federal officials that on May 11, the day before the raid, Rubashkin was present while a large number of new job applications were processed. The source thought that the applications were for workers who were supposed to have been fired for lacking legal documentation.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company