By 5TJT Staff
Dear Ms. Rose,
Your service in fighting crime in this country is both very necessary and most appreciated. It truly is. However, at times, a prosecutor can, at times, get carried away a bit. Your open letter to the public about the prosecution of Sholom Rubashkin paints a vile portrait indeed. The question is, however, is the narrative in your open letter in any way skewed or slanted? A representative of the government has a responsibility to present truth – not a vision that is distorted by imbalanced descriptions, nuances, and superlatives. The perspectives and perceptions in your narrative is revealing of the zeal involved in this prosecution – a zeal that, truth to tell, has been denounced by no less than six United States Attorneys General.
What follows is a line by line analysis of your open letter. It is not meant to be a defense of the criminal activities of Mr. Rubashkin. He was guilty of crimes, true. What this analysis is meant to do is to reveal the underlying motives for the excessive zeal and ardor involved in this entire affair.
The small town of Postville relied upon Agriprocessors.
True. Prior to the arrival of Agri – Postville was a small indigent town in America. Agri provided them with jobs and substantively improved their economic condition. This is attested to by numerous residents, business owners, book authors, and politicians. The government raid and subsequent actions by the government brought about the downfall of Postville. Ours is a country of ingenuity and can-do-ism. Was there not a way in which Mr. Rubashkin’s crimes could have been punished without so much collateral damage? Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas, Certified Federal Interpreter and author of Interpreting after the largest ICE raid in US History: A Personal Account wrote as follows:
“The NCC is a 60-acre cattle fairground that had been transformed into a sort of concentration camp or detention center. Fenced in behind the ballroom/ courtroom were 23 trailers from federal authorities, including two set up as sentencing courts; various Homeland Security buses and an “incident response” truck; scores of ICE agents and U.S. Marshals; and in the background two large buildings: a pavilion where agents and prosecutors had established a command center; and a gymnasium filled with tight rows of cots..Later the NCC board complained to the local newspaper that they had been “misled” by the government when they leased the grounds purportedly for Homeland Security training.
Echoing what I think was the general feeling, one of my fellow interpreters would later exclaim: “When I saw what it was really about, my heart sank…” Then began the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see, because cameras were not allowed past the perimeter of the compound (only a few journalists came to court the following days, notepad in hand). Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10..some in tears; others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment..”Sad spectacle” I heard a colleague say, reading my mind. They had all waived their right to be indicted by a grand jury and accepted instead an information or simple charging document by the U.S. Attorney, hoping to be quickly deported since they had families to support back home. But it was not to be. They were criminally charged with “aggravated identity theft” and “Social Security fraud” -charges they did not understand… and, frankly, neither could I. Everyone wondered how it would all play out.”
Honestly, with all your vast resources, could you not have found a way to preserve this company, to preserve these jobs, and to preserve the economic infrastructure of this town? True, you are focused on crime – but try, perhaps for next time, to find a third option – free of such massive destruction.
Postville was occupied by residents who benefitted from, and feared the discovery of, hundreds of illegal workers.
As is every virtually every city in America. There are illegal workers in this country and it is a national problem that must be dealt with wisely. They work in our restaurants , they work in our industries, and they mow the lawns of our politicians too. The government must take the steps of securing the borders, of perhaps raising the immigration quotas, and of strengthening and fool-proofing the e-verify software system. Did Rubashkin hire illegals? It would seem so from your evidence. But what the government did here was to let the school run amok and then go shoot everyone in the playground. It just wasn’t sensible.
Agriprocessors capitalized on fears – workers’ fears of being reported; employees’ fears of revealing lies made to the company’s creditors; and residents’ fears of the town’s economy crumbling if Agriprocessors’ illegal acts were discovered.
This paints a scene of a mean and nasty capitalist employer with a whip in hand capitalizing on fears. Fears here. Fears there. Fears everywhere. It just isn’t true. The workers, Postville residents, and employees, as a general rule, did not paint such a picture.
You yourself write later on in your letter: “These cases could not have been effectively prosecuted if the illegal workers had not been arrested and detained. Not one unarrested illegal worker ever came forward to assist law enforcement.”
The tough decision was made to go forward with a massive enforcement operation after consultations at the highest levels of the United States Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. May 12, 2008, was a day many will long remember. Hundreds of illegal workers – compliant and accepting – were charged, provided attorneys, and entered into the criminal justice system. Tireless agents, U.S. Attorney’s Office employees, defense attorneys, and court personnel worked around the clock to ensure defendants’ rights were protected and standards of human decency were met.
That’s not what the news media reported [See New York Times July 13th 2008; July 14th, 2008; August 25th 2008 and above response]. All third party accounts reported a horrific and mass violation of human rights replete with an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. They were shocked that such a thing could happen in our country. Go back and read some of those accounts.
By May 22, 2008, 306 illegal workers had pled guilty to their immigration- or document-related offenses. The prosecution of the illegal workers was complete. The prosecution of those who preyed upon those workers had just begun.
Again, the use of the word “preyed” is rather dubious. 25 million workers in South America rely on their coffee bean income – amounting to some $2.50 per hour in many parts. If you are a coffee drinker you prey on those workers much more than Agri did when they paid their workers well above minimum wage.
Over the next 18 months, hundreds of witnesses were interviewed. An intensive investigation substantiated crimes known in May 2008 and revealed many more unknown crimes. Steadily, the case against Agriprocessors, Sholom Rubashkin, and others was built. At each step, a grand jury heard the evidence and returned indictments charging the crimes. Ultimately, nine lower level Agriprocessors managers and office employees pled guilty and were sentenced. After an impartial trial jury heard the evidence and convicted Rubashkin on November 12, 2009, a concerted campaign emerged to paint prosecutors as racists, Nazis, and zealots.
No. There was no concerted campaign here. There was a grassroots effort by unconnected and people from very different backgrounds to raise awareness and address the disparity of justice here. One of the main voices involved in raising awareness comes from a perspective that is far far away from the Lubavitch worldview of the Rubashkins.
This office followed the law, stood silent in the face of vicious and false accusations, and worked to the conclusion of the case. Silence is no longer in order. First, claims from people not involved in the May 2008 enforcement action about what supposedly occurred in Postville and Waterloo have been ill-informed and false. Agents were not clad in riot gear. There was no military operation. The single helicopter on the scene was equipped only for surveillance and to provide medical evacuation should there have been a need.
The reports of both those who were there and the media indicate that the raid was indeed unprecedented in scope, breadth, and instigation of fear. See http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/07/14/opinion/14ed-camayd.pdf And medical evacuation? What in Heaven’s name were you planning?
During their short time at the National Cattle Congress grounds, the illegal workers were appropriately housed and fed meals catered by Hy-Vee. They had access to phones, televisions, and other recreational activities.
Again, that is not what the reports said. The New York Times reported concentration camp-like conditions with 300 cots in one gym and people chained in leg cuffs (see references above). The company that leased the property to you guys said you leased it for “training.” Some training indeed!
Their health needs were monitored and attended. Those who identified themselves as sole care givers of children were immediately released. A representative from the Guatemalan consulate inspected the grounds and found no shortcomings in how the workers were treated.
Perhaps one guy found no shortcomings – but the interpreters all did (see link above).
The fact that some detractors have made false claims of prodding people down cattle chutes and other imagined abuses says more about those detractors’ personal agendas than it does about the real events in May 2008. Second, the enforcement action was critical to the successful prosecution of Rubashkin and other management employees at Agriprocessors. These cases could not have been effectively prosecuted if the illegal workers had not been arrested and detained. Not one unarrested illegal worker ever came forward to assist law enforcement.
Is that really true? The government has prosecuted other cases where employees had illegal workers without resorting to such heavy-handed raids. Why here?
Third, Rubashkin absolutely personally profited from his crimes. The jury never found otherwise. Uncontroverted evidence at trial showed that, during just the two years immediately preceding May 2008, Rubashkin funneled about $1.5 million from Agriprocessors’ accounts to his personal bank accounts. Hundreds of thousands of those dollars paid his personal credit card bills, remodeled his home, paid his taxes, paid his personal mortgage, bought jewelry and silver, and made his car payments.
There is a difference between profiting from a business and profiting from crimes. Although some of Agri’s workers may have been illegal – they were paid wages. The fact that he profited from the business does not mean he profited from the crime involved in the hiring of workers.
Fourth, claims Rubashkin’s religious beliefs led to his prosecution have no foundation. His faith had nothing to do with his crimes, prosecution, or punishment.
To this we are in partial agreement. A good portion of Rubashkin’s downfall was associated with the fact that the union made so many efforts to bring down Agri. They got PETA involved. They started a website to bring him down. But there is something else too. There is a general xenophobia in our society to people that are different. And public sentiment does make a difference. A prosecution can get away with filing thousands of counts in such an atmosphere. A governor can get away with publicly denouncing someone for crimes and instructing his government to treat them differently when there exists a public sentiment against those who are different. Read the comments in the local papers. The Anti-Semitism is viscous and tangible.
Finally, various interest groups and people evidently seeking personal notoriety have hijacked the true facts of this case for their own purposes. It is impossible to address the mountain of false information that has found its way into the public arena. But the jury found the truth – that Rubashkin knowingly employed illegal workers and committed a $26 million bank fraud. He is a common criminal who committed uncommon crimes.
There is one factor that has not been accounted for. And while it is no excuse, and does not mitigate the seriousness of things, it does make us understand him better. Mr. Rubashkin was found innocent of all counts of the child labor charges – which initially numbered in the thousands. When a businessman faces the full frontal and brutal assault of not just one agency but numerous ones at two levels of government, and knows that he is innocent of many, many of these allegations the natural tendency is to fear the attack and to protect one’s business. He needed to keep it running and never imagined that he and his company would not pull through. When pushed into a corner, which the government no doubt did in this case, a person will try to take protective measures. He was clearly in the wrong, but this uncommon financial crime was brought about by the desperation he felt on account of the government’s unrelenting zeal in both the prosecution and the punishment it sought. Life in jail? Murderers and rapists very often do not receive such jail time. No one was trying to make a name here for themselves, here, as you state. No, they were pointing out a very sad fact. That this was a dark, dark day for justice and fair play in this country. And sadly, you played a starring role.