Evaluating Postville

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

It appears that overzealous prosecutors engaged in improprieties that might have been harmful to creditors trying to recover debts owed to them during the bankruptcy proceedings of Agriprocessors, a company that operated a slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa.

On May 12, 2008, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security, together with other agencies, conducted the largest single raid of a workplace in U.S. history. Some 300 workers were convicted on document fraud charges within four days. The majority served a five-month prison sentence before being deported.

Several employees and lower and middle level managers were indicted on charges of conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants, aggravated identity theft, and child labor violations among others and were convicted, serving prison sentences between 60 days and 41 months. Neither the owner, Aaron Rubashkin, nor his sons Sholom and Heshy Rubashkin, who were in charge of the management of Agriprocessors, were convicted of immigration and labor law violations.

Financial irregularities brought to light by the raid and subsequent investigations led to a conviction of the plant's chief executive, Sholom Rubashkin, on bank fraud and related charges. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison. His trial on immigration charges was canceled.

A letter signed by more than 100 individuals, including federal judges and former U.S. attorneys general, alleges that prosecutors in the case acted improperly.

Rubashkin's attorneys say that federal prosecutors were threatening and hostile toward bidders during the liquidation of Agriprocessors' assets, resulting in Agriprocessors' lenders losing tens of millions of dollars, which in turn led to Rubashkin getting a longer prison sentence.

Rubashkin was not an innocent victim in this process but, as far as we know, the lenders were.

Also disturbing, regarding the prosecutors' manner of handling this case, was the fact that the highly publicized lengthy sentence of one of the people responsible seems to be a convenient substitute for a broader prosecution of those guilty of an inhumane, greed-motivated enterprise.

Perhaps the whole Postville incident is serving as a substitute for more aggressive prosecution of employers of illegal immigrants.