Photo Credit: Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Judge Linda Reade’s staggering sentence, even outdoing the government’s request, evoked outrage and underscored bias. There is no modern American precedent for such severity. Fundamentally, the verdict was a life sentence for an offense that normally does not carry anywhere near as heavy a penalty, and 52,000 people protested it, signing a petition asking for mercy for Rubashkin that was sent to the White House.

Nathan Lewin referred to this sentence as the greatest travesty in the history of the American legal system, and Conrad Black referred to the judgement as a mockery of justice adding, “it will be a virtual self-judgment that the United States is not now in any relevant sense a society of laws at all in criminal matters if this result, which would appall Draco himself, is allowed to stand.”


Now that the fraud trial had concluded, “prosecutamania” from the Feds carried over to the local authorities. The State of Iowa sought to prosecute on no less than 9,311 counts of child labor!

As Judge Linda Reade had separated the fraud and the immigration violation trials, anything related to the immigration claims was to be excluded and inadmissible from the fraud trial. (The District Court was prosecuting violations of federal immigration laws concerning illegal aliens. The State of Iowa was prosecuting the hiring of underage employees.) If the trials were to be separated, it does not take much speculation to divine why the bank fraud trial preceded the illegal immigration trial, although the illegal immigrants were the entire reason for the raid and all of the extensive legal preparations. Alas, this got brushed aside, as the punishment for employing illegal immigrants pales next to what bank fraud can land.

But despite the immigration and fraud separation, the prosecution still managed to squeeze in many hours of such testimony. This is what defense attorney Cook labeled “dirtying up” the defendant with unrelated charges inorder to criminalize him in the jury’s mind. The prosecution poisoned the fraud trial with vast amounts of prejudicial evidence from the immigration charges – all of which were eventually dismissed.

As the prosecutors hammered away at an image of an arrogant, self-serving executive who flaunted immigration laws and abused the illegal workers in order to make a killing. not only did Judge Reade allow such toxic, thoroughly irrelevant testimony in a trial exclusively concerning bank fraud, she also barred, according to Mr. Nathan Lewin, compelling evidence that would have refuted it.

Some of this evidence had been subpoenaed by the defense from the Nyemaster law firm, which had advised Agriprocessors regarding illegal immigrant issues. The firm had been hired to screen out undocumented workers and fake immigration papers, so they surely knew the score, but they, like other defense witnesses, were not permitted to testify.

Consider the mind of a juror who must decide if Rubashkin willingly intended to cheat and rob from the bank. Viewing him as a man who is a first-time offender, did not pocket a penny for himself, and whose errors were the blunders of a butcher thrust into the position of a chief executive of a large corporation with a 35-million-dollar credit line necessary to stay afloat, is radically different from viewing him as a man who got rich off the backs of child laborers and impoverished immigrants who were desperate for any type of work, regardless of the hazards. The difference between these two portraits is like the difference between, say, a firefly and fire. Almost all of the charges were dropped on the eve of trial May 4, 2010, and the rest were thrown out by the jurors on June 7, 2010.

Not only was Rubashkin acquitted regarding all child labor law violations, but the case was even expunged in February 2016 – the closest thing the state has to an admission of error and apology. In other words, the entire onslaught regarding child labor abuse was completely spurious; yet it was these nearly 10,000 charges of child labor violations that brought Shalom Rubashkin down and sank the family business.

The child labor defamation was a constant theme in the press, with The Forward leading the assault. An article on August 6, 2008 by Anthony Weiss commenced, “The Iowa labor commissioner’s office is accusing the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse of 57 separate cases of child labor violations, including allegations that teenagers working at the plant used dangerous tools and chemicals.”

The Forward editorialized on August 15, 2008 about “the extensive, egregious child labor violations…” Never was there a retraction or apology over The Forward reportage – even in the article (from June 9, 2010) by Josh Nathan-Kazis, entitled, “Rubashkin Acquitted of [Child] Labor Charges.”

(To be continued)

            May we all be inscribed for a good and sweet New Year.

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Rabbi Hanoch Teller is the award-winning producer of three films, a popular teacher in Jerusalem yeshivos and seminaries, and the author of 28 books, the latest entitled Heroic Children, chronicling the lives of nine child survivors of the Holocaust. Rabbi Teller is also a senior docent in Yad Vashem and is frequently invited to lecture to different communities throughout the world.