Following the great immigration raid at the kosher Agriprocessors plant in the Iowa town of Postville on May 8, 2008, practically the whole criminal law book has been used to make charges stick to all who were guilty.
About the only laws not being violated in and around the Agriprocessors plant, which hit peak employment of around 1,000 before the raid led to its bankruptcy, were the nation’s food safety laws and regulations. That much was kosher.
Everything else was a nightmare.
In the raid, 389 mostly Guatemalan workers were arrested for being in the country illegally. It sparked outrage among immigration groups, who objected to the use of 900 armed federal agents to raid a workplace at a cost estimated at over $5 million.
Most of the immigration cases were dispatched fairly quickly with most accepting five months jail time and deportation back to their native country.
But the undocumented worker cases were only the beginning. By September, the Iowa Attorney General filed more than 9,000 charges of child labor violations against the owner and managers of the kosher meat plant.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors were filing money laundering, mail, wire, and bank fraud charges against Sholom M. Rubashkin, the 50-year-old son of A. Aaron Rubashkin, founder and president of Agriprocessors.
Sholom M. Rubashkin is currently being held without bail and is awaiting sentencing after being found guilty in a federal court in Sioux Falls, SD of 86 counts. The sentencing date has not been set, and the court has ordered him to undergo examination by a forensic psychiatrist.
He was in charge of day-to-day operations at the Postville plant.
A half dozen or more other former executives at Agriprocessors have also plead guilty to various federal charges since the raid, including most recently the plant operations manager and the head of human resources.
The Rubashkins are ultra-orthodox Jews affiliated with the Hasidic Chabad Lubavitch movement.
While Sholom M. Rubashkin waits to be sentenced in federal court, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has been waiting for the feds to be done so the state’s child labor cases can proceed. Iowa Judge Nathan Callahan now has set the child labor violations for trial on May 4, 2010, at Black Hawk County District Court in Waterloo.
There’s been a shortage of kosher products since the raid and some say prices are up about 15 percent. For Postville, with 2,300 people, the raid bought the town its own little depression.
Yet, there is reason to expect better things are ahead for the town in 2010. Agri Star Meat and Poultry, LLC, run by Canadian Hershey Friedman, bought Agriprocessors out of bankruptcy.
Agri Star is rising in Postville with a $6.7 million expansion of the plant, using the federal government’s E-Verify to check on the new applicants it is hiring. The lowest starting wage is about $1 over Iowa’s minimum wage.