The year was 2008. Hundreds of ICE officers swooped down on Agriprocessors, the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse located in Postville, Iowa, in the largest single-site raid to date in U.S. history. Half of the 800 person workforce was arrested.
In addition to kosher brands, Agriprocessors meat was sold as Iowa Best Beef Brand in Albertson’s, Kroger, Shop Rite, Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s, Ralph’s, Pathmark and H.E. Butt.
Initial charges against Agriprocessors managers 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. A methamphetamine production plant existed with the slaughterhouse, sanctioned by management. At the time of the raid, Barack Obama, then an Illinois senator said of Agriprocessors during a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa, “They have kids in there wielding buzz saws and cleavers. It’s ridiculous.”
Child labor charges were initially filed against Sholom Rubashkin, son of Agriprocessors owner Aaron Rubashkin, but they were dropped as prosecutors unspooled elaborate financial wrongdoing perpetrated by Rubashkin which they pursued instead. (Other Agriprocessors managers pleaded guilty at the outset of the trial to multiple charges of abuse of under-age laborers.)
According to the New York Times
“Judge Reade noted that Mr.[Sholom] Rubashkin had misled the bank repeatedly about the finances of Agriprocessors, ordering employees to create fake invoices and moving cash secretly among different accounts, including some designated for religious purposes. The maneuvers caused a loss to the bank of $26 million, the judge found.
In one episode, Judge Reade wrote, Mr. Rubashkin lent $4,500 to illegal immigrants working in the plant so they could buy new fake identity documents, after immigration authorities had questioned the validity of their original hiring documents.”
Before the immigration raid and ensuing charges, Agriprocessors had received six OSHA violations. Supervisors extorted bribes from workers according to EEOC complaints. 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.”
An animal welfare group videotaped Agriprocessors workers ripping tracheas out of conscious cattle and leaving them to thrash in their own blood on the floor in a macabre demonstration of kosher slaughter. (While ritual slaughter is supposed to reduce pain it often does the opposite says animal expert Temple Grandin.) The images moved rabbinical groups to condemn Agriprocessors and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to launch its own investigation which found “acts of inhumane slaughter.
Sholom Rubashkin was convicted of eighty-six counts of federal-bank fraud. Prosecutors asked for a life sentence for Sholom Rubashkin, citing his lawlessness and lack of remorse, but more than one dozen former U.S. 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.
A few years later in 2017, President Trump commuted Rubashkin’s sentence. The commutation resulted from pressure from both sides of the aisle said the White House–both Nancy Pelosi and Orrin Hatch. It also came from high-ranking law enforcement officials said NBC, who argued “the sentence was far too harsh for a first-time, non-violent offender.”
Nonviolent unless you include the abuse of workers and animals.