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Petition calls for equal justice for Rubashkin

Area Chabad and Young Israel synagogues are encouraging their members to sign a petition imploring the U.S. Justice Department to show evenhandedness with Sholom Rubashkin, the former CEO of the Agriprocessors plant in Iowa that was the site of a massive immigration raid two years ago.

The petition, hosted at www.justiceforsholom.org and addressed to U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose in the Northern District of Iowa, states that “Sholom Rubashkin has been treated harshly and vindictively in a prosecution that is likely to go down in history as a shameful permanent stain on American Justice. You have an opportunity today to correct the course that this case has taken by directing that Mr. Rubashkin be treated no differently in the Northern District of Iowa than similar defendants have been treated in other federal jurisdictions.”

The petition had garnered more than 24,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

Rubashkin was convicted in November on 86 out of 91 fraud charges and awaits sentencing. The petition, organized by a committee including members of Rubashkin’s family, alleges that Rubashkin has been singled out for unfair treatment that includes the denial of bail while awaiting sentencing and a harsher sentencing request from the prosecution than for those convicted of similar crimes.

Prosecutors have asked for a life sentence, according to Nathan Lewin, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer representing Rubashkin who is not connected to the petition. Agreeing with the petition’s claim, Lewin said his client is being treated differently from any other defendant in these circumstances.

“The prosecutors in Iowa see this as a high-profile case and they can make a career out of it,” Lewin said.

The petition has drawn support from a number of Jewish organizations, including Agudath Israel of America, National Council of Young Israel, Rabbinical Council of America, and Chabad.

Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County, forwarded an e-mail to his membership during Pesach, shortly after receiving a request from Chabad’s main office in Brooklyn. Despite some misconceptions, Simon said, the petition does not argue Rubashkin’s innocence or plead for leniency or to have his conviction overturned.

“It’s saying he should be punished according to the law of the land,” Simon said. “Let him be punished but let him be punished the same as others have been punished.”

That Rubashkin has been denied bail because he’s considered a flight risk to Israel is disconcerting, according to Simon.

“To say that somebody should deserve a different standard of justice because he is a Jew is something we should be concerned about,” he said.

Rabbi Michel Gurkov of Chabad of Wayne said that his members’ response to the petition has been generally positive. A number of people are upset about the circumstances surrounding the case, he said.

“It’s beyond our understanding why the prosecution is demanding such stringent punishment,” he said.

Gurkov also expressed worry that this case could set a precedent for other high-profile Jewish individuals facing criminal charges.

“The thought itself is very disconcerting,” he said.

Repeated calls to the Justice Department’s Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison — which the petition directs people to call to voice their concern — were met with either a busy signal or a recording that the office is receiving a high volume of calls.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, cited a handful of immigration raids at Swift & Company meatpacking sites in Colorado that rounded up more than 1,300 illegal immigrants as evidence of the disparity in Rubashkin’s treatment. The leadership of Swift was not treated as harshly as Rubashkin, according to Lerner. None of the company’s leaders was charged and the one union representative convicted of harboring illegal immigrants received a sentence of one year and a day.

“The bottom line is something doesn’t make sense here,” Lerner said. “He committed a crime, we accept that. The issue is the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”

Federal authorities launched investigations into the Agriprocessors plant after a May 2008 immigration raid. After a month-long trial, a jury convicted Rubashkin last year on a range of fraud charges, money laundering, and failing to pay his suppliers. A week later, federal prosecutors dismissed all 72 immigration charges against Rubashkin because he had already been convicted of the more serious fraud charges.

“This is not a Madoff story. It’s not somebody who lined his pockets for wealth,” said Rabbi Neil Winkler of Young Israel of Fort Lee, who has not yet distributed the petition among his congregants but plans to speak about it soon. “It’s proper for every Jew to seek equal justice for Sholom Rubashkin, which is what we’re asking for.”

 
 

Rubashkin legal team vow to fight conviction, sentence

WASHINGTON – For years Sholom Rubashkin made his living as an executive in the country’s largest kosher meatpacking company. Now to keep him out of prison, his defense team is arguing that the judge in his financial fraud case made treif use of federal sentencing guidelines.

The judge, Linda Reade, who sits on the federal bench in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, used a federal point system in deciding this week to sentence Rubashkin to 27 years in prison.

Sophisticated crime? Check, that’s 2 points.

Fraud in the $20 million to $50 million range? Check, that’s 22 points.

Was he a boss of the criminal enterprise? Check, that’s 4 points.

Did he perjure himself? Another 2 points.

Reade determined that Rubashkin’s final score was 41 points, which according to the federal guidelines earns a sentence of 324 months to 405 months. The judge handed down the former — 27 years — plus another five years probation. Rubashkin also will be required to make restitution of nearly $27 million to several financial institutions.

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Sholom Rubashkin Courtesy of Rubashkin family

Rubashkin was convicted of defrauding two banks that had extended lines of credit to the slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. The ex-Agriprocessors executive contended that he was desperate to keep the business afloat and would have repaid the advances if he had the opportunity. Reade assessed the fraud at close to $27 million.

Rubashkin’s lawyers said the 27-year term amounted to a life sentence for the 51-year-old father of 10, and that that they planned to appeal the sentence — on top of an appeal of the conviction.

“This is a stain on American justice, and it gets to be a bigger and bigger stain all the time,” defense attorney Nathan Lewin told JTA.

Defense lawyers dismissed claims that anti-Semitism underpinned the case.

“Nobody responsible has made that allegation,” Lewin said.

Instead, the lawyers said, the “overzealousness” of the prosecution had more to do with the profoundly negative publicity in the lead-up to the May 2008 federal raid on the Agriprocessors plant.

In particular, Lewin cited “defamatory” media stories that described alleged abuses of the immigrants who worked at the Agriprocessors plant; claims by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that the cattle suffered immensely; and opposition from local unions because the shop was not organized.

Lewin said Rubashkin’s team planned to appeal for support through rallies such as the one he addressed Monday evening in the heavily Orthodox Borough Park section of Brooklyn.

“This is a man who did a lot more good for the Jewish community than not,” Lewin said. “He made kosher meat available for Jews in far-flung places.”

Lewin said he planned to appeal the sentence based on what he described as Reade’s adherence to mandatory sentencing guidelines, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 2005.

However, Reade in her ruling appeared to say that she treated the guidelines as advisory, which the Supreme Court said was permissible.

“The court finds that a sentence within the computed advisory guidelines range is firmly rooted in credible evidence produced at trial and at sentencing,” she said.

Prior to the sentencing hearing last month, six former U.S. attorneys general and 17 other Justice Department veterans sent a letter to the judge criticizing prosecutors’ recommendation that Rubashkin receive life in prison.

The letter writers noted the “potential absurdity” in prosecutors using the federal sentencing guidelines to calculate a recommendation of life in prison for Rubashkin, saying the guidelines can produce sentencing ranges that are greater than necessary and “lack any common sentencing wisdom.”

In his interview with JTA, Lewin said he would show on appeal that Reade did not apply an “individualized process” in determining the sentence. She did not address motive, he said, nor did she take into account family issues or sentences for similar crimes.

Reade did not cite similar cases, and she dismissed motive outright in rejecting defense requests for “downwards adjustment” of the sentence. She did acknowledge, however, that the defense presented “substantial” evidence that Rubashkin was not motivated by greed but “out of a sense of duty to maintain his family business for religious purposes” — to maintain the supply of kosher meat.

“No matter defendant’s motive, he defrauded the victim banks out of millions of dollars,” Reade wrote. “He unlawfully placed his family business’s interest above the victim banks’ interest.”

Reade did address Rubashkin’s family situation, particularly his relationship with his autistic son. She rejected defense arguments in this case, saying that in the precedents, courts made it one of several factors.

In the case cited by the defense, the defendant had made “extraordinary efforts at restitution” — something Rubashkin did not , she argued. Reade also said that “in the vast majority of cases” that she has considered, loved ones are adversely affected, and that in this case — unlike in many others — Rubashkin’s son enjoys “a loving and competent mother as well as an extremely tight-knit, supportive extended family, all of whom are obviously devoted to him and accustomed to working with him.”

Another factor likely to be critical to the appeal of the sentencing is also central to the appeal of the conviction, the lawyers said: The judge allowed allegations of immigration law violations to be introduced both in the trial and sentencing stages, although she had earlier dismissed the immigration charges. Rubashkin was separately acquitted earlier this month of state charges of labor violations related to the alleged employment of immigrant children.

“Here’s the fallacy in all that — he was never convicted in any immigration charges,” Guy Cook, another of his attorneys, said in a conference call with Jewish media on Monday afternoon, after Reade had released her decision.

Bob Teig, a prosecution spokesman, said that the jurors considered the alleged immigration violations only as they pertained to the bank fraud charges. Teig said that Rubashkin had pledged to the banks to abide by the law, yet was in violation of immigration laws by knowingly accepting false identification documents.

“The jury finding was that he knew illegal aliens were being harbored at the plant and that he lied about that to the bank,” Teig said.

Reade cited the immigration law violations in making the case that Rubashkin knowingly defrauded the bank, but declined a prosecution request to add to the sentence because of the violations. However, the judge embedded a warning in her decision that she might change her mind if she is ordered to re-sentence on appeal.

“In the event the court is required to re-sentence Defendant, it reserves the right to revisit these upward departure provisions to determine whether their application would be appropriate,” she wrote.

Bring it on, Lewin said.

“If she’s warning us, it’s an empty warning,” he said. “We’re appealing it and we’ll get it reversed.”

JTA

 
 
 
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