Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Trump and the Meat Tycoon: Backstory to a Commutation

After he served 8 years of a 27-year sentence for money laundering, kosher meatpacking executive Sholom Rubashkin had his sentence commuted.

On May 14, 2008, hundreds of officers from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) swooped down on Agriprocessors, the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, with helicopters in the largest single-site raid in US history, arresting half of the eight-hundred-person workforce. Two hundred and ninety Guatemalans, ninety-three Mexicans, two Israelis, and four Ukrainians were marched off to a waiting phalanx of buses and vans and a makeshift detention center.

Initial charges against Agriprocessors’s employees included harboring illegal aliens, use of child labor, document fraud, identity theft, physical and sexual abuse of workers, unsafe working conditions, wage and hour violations, and shorting workers’ pay. According to the search warrant, one thousand discrepancies between worker names and social security numbers occurred in three years. There was even a methamphetamine production plant existing within the slaughterhouse, sanctioned by management. At the time Barack Obama, then an Illinois senator, weighed in on Agriprocessors. “They have kids in there wielding buzz saws and cleavers. It’s ridiculous,” he said during a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa.

Three hundred workers served federal prison sentences of five months for identity theft, and human resources managers and floor supervisors were convicted of felony charges of harboring illegal immigrants. Agriprocessors itself filed for bankruptcy. While thousands of child-labor charges were initially filed against Agriprocessors’s owner, Aaron Rubashkin; his son Sholom; and others, the charges were dropped as prosecutors unspooled elaborate financial wrongdoing at the plant, which they pursued instead.

In 2008, Sholom Rubashkin was convicted of eighty-six counts of federal-bank fraud in connection with loans to the company, including fabricating fake collateral for loans, ordering employees to create false invoices, and laundering millions through a secret bank account in the name of Torah Education, reported the New York Times. Sentencing documents also suggest the Postville mayor, Robert Penrod, may have received or extorted money from Agriprocessors to discourage unionizing at the plant.

The immigration raid was not Agriprocessors’ first troubles. In 2004, an undercover video showed cows very much alive after being “slaughtered” and having their throats cut, and it led to a USDA investigation that “reported many violations of animal cruelty laws at the plant,” says the New York Times. A year and a half after the cruelty video, the Forward paid a visit to Postville and reopened public scrutiny. Hundreds of semi-indentured immigrant employees were working ten- to twelve-hour shifts, six days a week, for $6.25 to $7 a hour, wrote the newspaper calling them “the impoverished humans who do the factory’s dirty work.”

Before the immigration raid, Agriprocessors had six Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations in one year, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints that supervisors extorted bribes from workers. Employees were untrained and unprotected from dangerous equipment, reported the Forward. Two workers required amputations in one month, and one was still working at the plant with a hand missing when the Forward visited, “hoping to collect enough to pay off his debts back home.”

After the immigration raid, prosecutors asked for a life sentence for the young Sholom Rubashkin, citing his lawlessness and lack of remorse, more than one dozen former US attorneys cried to the judge: Unfair! “We cannot fathom how truly sound and sensible sentencing rules could call for a life sentence—or anything close to it—for Mr. Rubashkin, a 51-year-old, first-time, nonviolent offender,” said a letter signed by former attorney generals Janet Reno, William Barr, Richard Thornburgh, Edwin Meese III, Ramsey Clark, and Nicholas Katzenbach.

Nonviolent if you leave out what happened to the workers and the animals at Agriprocessors.

More articles by:

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
Marvin Kitman
The Kitman Plan for Peace in the Middle East: Two Proposals
Weekend Edition
October 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
My History with Alexander Cockburn and The Financial Future of CounterPunch
Paul Street
For Popular Sovereignty, Beyond Absurdity
Nick Pemberton
The Colonial Pantsuit: What We Didn’t Want to Know About Africa
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Summer of No Return
Jeff Halper
Choices Made: From Zionist Settler Colonialism to Decolonization
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Incident: Trump’s Special Relationship With the Saudi Monarchy
Andrew Levine
Democrats: Boost, Knock, Enthuse
Barbara Kantz
The Deportation Crisis: Report From Long Island
Doug Johnson
Nate Silver and 538’s Measurable 3.5% Democratic Bias and the 2018 House Race
Gwen Carr
This Stops Today: Seeking Justice for My Son Eric Garner
Robert Hunziker
Peak Carbon Emissions By 2020, or Else!
Arshad Khan
Is There Hope on a World Warming at 1.5 Degrees Celsius?
David Rosen
Packing the Supreme Court in the 21stCentury
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Threats of Death and Destruction
Joel A. Harrison
The Case for a Non-Profit Single-Payer Healthcare System
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail