Renowned lawyer Nathan Lewin, who is representing the former CEO of the Agriprocessors kosher meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa, Sholom Rubashkin, on March 11 petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision of the lower courts denying Mr. Rubashkin bail pending his forthcoming sentencing. Mr. Lewin has now taken the additional step of making a direct application to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who presides over the Iowa judicial district in which Mr. Rubashkin's case is being heard, to grant Mr. Rubashkin immediate release on bail pending sentencing and appeal.
Mr. Lewin asserted that federal prosecutors were overzealous in Mr. Rubashkin's prosecution from the start, submitting him to considerably more severe restrictions and potential punishment than other employers targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for hiring even larger numbers of illegal workers than were discovered at Agriprocessors. He further points out that the judge presiding over Mr. Rubashkin's case improperly allowed prejudicial evidence of alleged immigration infractions, despite the fact that the only charges against Mr. Rubashkin related to alleged bank fraud and all previous charges about immigration violations were dropped by the government.
As reports of these and other irregularities have filtered down to the grassroots community, several Jewish organizations have joined in questioning the basis for prosecutors' assertion that Rubashkin is a flight risk who must remain imprisoned. They are also critical of the federal government for relentlessly targeting Rubashkin over the last two years, seemingly seeking to retroactively justify the massive 2008 raid on the Agriprocessors plant — which included Black Hawk military helicopters and more than 600 federal agents — that economically destroyed the town of Postville and left the company bankrupt.
Mr. Rubashkin's bank fraud convictions were for inflating invoices to expand a line of credit he used to operate his business, even though timely payments were made on the loan and the bank appeared uninterested in the accuracy of the invoices.
Prosecutors were allowed to include inflammatory evidence regarding the employment of illegal workers at the bank fraud trial, even though the judge had previously ruled such evidence would prejudice the jury and had severed the immigration and bank fraud cases for that very reason. All charges against Rubashkin regarding illegal immigrants were eventually dropped.
Perhaps most dismaying, prosecutors fragmented two basic charges into 163 counts in seven superseding indictments. And the prosecutors have shown unusual harshness in resisting Mr. Rubashkin's request — even after Rubashkin offered to post a large bond and hire a round-the-clock private guard at his expense — to spend the first days of Passover and celebrate the seders with his family.
"We are deeply concerned about the seeming pattern of overzealous prosecution in this case," said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, reported that "the volume of emails and phone calls we have received about the Rubashkin case has reached a loud crescendo in recent weeks, as the full horror of how he is being singled out for harsh treatment has become strikingly clear."
Rabbis Lerner and Zwiebel, along with representatives of other Jewish groups, are exploring ways of expressing their deep concern to the federal prosecutors in Iowa as well as the U.S. Justice Department at the national level.
Private advocates for Rubashkin have also launched a "Justice for Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin" Web page at http://justiceforsholom.org
Despite the fact that the jury found in a special interrogatory that Rubashkin did not profit personally from the false invoices presented to the lending bank, prosecutors have indicated that they view an appropriate prison sentence as being in the 21 to 27 year range. He is the father of 10 children, including an autistic teenage boy who depends heavily on him.
Members of the community who wish to communicate their respectful concern over the handling of the Rubashkin case and the excessive sentence being considered are urged to contact the Justice Department's Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison at 202-514-3465 or firstname.lastname@example.org and sign an online petition available at www.justiceforsholom.org.