The WSJ Law Blog reports on the not so Kosher meat business trial. [Hat tip to Yochanan Hashlishi]
Iowa Kosher Meatplant Trial Begins With Prayers And Crinkled Dollar Bills
By Nathan Koppel
Earlier this week, we previewed the criminal trial of Sholom Rubashkin, the one-time manager of an Iowa Kosher meatpacking plant.
We admit we’re sort of taken with the facts in this case. Who would’ve thought, for starters, that the nation’s largest Kosher plant, Agriprocessors, would’ve been based in Iowa. Plus, how often do we get to write about someone being accused of violating the federal Packers and Stockyards Act by failing to promptly pay cattle suppliers?
Rubashkin, who moved to Postville, Iowa, from the Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood of Crown Heights, is accused by prosecutors of cheating a bank, laundering money, destroying evidence, and, on top of that, harboring hundreds of undocumented workers. Rubashkin has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Thankfully, WSJ’s Lauren Etter was present Wednesday for Day One of the trial in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. (The trial was moved at Rubashkin’s request.) Here’s her full report.
Rubashkin’s lead defense attorney, Guy Cook of Des Moines, called Rubashkin an “honest family man” in over in his head in a complex business.
The defendant was trained as a rabbi, not a businessman; at most, his lawyer said, he was guilty of “sloppy” business practices. Rubashkin’s counsel also characterized Agriprocessors as a “true American success story” that contributed to charity and helped boost Postville’s economy.
Rubashkin, wearing the traditional long beard and black trousers of Hasidic Jews, had a large posse in tow. His wife and nearly 20 other family members and supporters ─ some of whom traveled 22 hours by bus from Brooklyn ─ watched the proceedings in court. At times, Etter reports, they chanted Hebrew prayers under their breath.
“The big hats will need to come off,” a court guard told the group several times.
This Des Moines Register article adds some more color. Rubashkin’s supporters came from as far as Australia and Israel. “More than 40 young men, most in their teens or early 20s, huddled around a big-screen television in a spillover room to watch the proceedings on a live feed,” the Register reports. “A black fedora, filled with crinkled dollar bills, passed from hand to hand.”
Specifically, the government says Mr. Rubashkin engineered a scheme that illegally diverted millions of dollars in customer payments away from First Bank Business Capital, Inc., a subsidiary of St. Louis-based First Bank, which had issued him a $35 million revolving line of credit.
Rather than depositing payments into a depository account, as a loan agreement required, the government says Mr. Rubashkin put funds in a separate account used for his business. He then allegedly used third parties, including a kosher grocer and a Torah education program, to “launder” the funds to make it appear as if Agriprocessors had more funds coming in than were actually available.
The trial is expected to last four to six weeks. And then a second trial, on immigration-related charges, will start one week after the first trial ends.