Kosher Slaughterhouse Former Manager Arrested
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
An update now on the mounting legal troubles for the nation's largest kosher meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa. Since immigration raided its plant last May, Agriprocessors has been cited for a slew of child labor and wage violations. Three low-level managers have pleaded guilty to conspiring to harbor illegal immigrant workers, and now the highest profile charges yet: the plant's former CEO, who is the son of its owner, is also accused of helping to hire undocumented workers. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.
JENNIFER LUDDEN: The criminal complaint against Sholom Rubashkin paints a picture of a mad scramble in the days before the immigration raid. It doesn't say whether company officials suspected the raid was coming, but suddenly dozens of plant workers were told their Social Security numbers were no good. They would have to buy new fake documents, so the company could then rehire them under a different name. The complaint describes a meeting near a barn on company property where Rubashkin is told some workers don't have the $200 for a new ID. He offers to loan them the money.
The next day, according to the complaint, Rubashkin hands over $4,500 cash. Federal prosecutors allege he then called employees in to process these supposedly new applicants on the Sunday before the raid. Since hundreds of unauthorized workers were arrested last May, there's been a burning resentment that federal prosecutors weren't going after officials at the top of the company. So in Postville, Iowa yesterday, as the news of Rubashkin's arrest sank in, there was elation.
Mr. ELVER HERRERA (Former Employee, Agriprocessors): It's a big - a big day. It's a beautiful day, really.
LUDDEN: Elver Herrera worked seven years at Agriprocessors. He says there's no question Sholom Rubashkin knew hundreds of workers were illegal, because Herrera told him.
Mr. HERRERA: I talked to him several time. I told him about what's going on in the plant, about the corruption about it, every about it - underage, because the last meeting I had with him, I told him about it.
LUDDEN: By underage, Herrera means he even told Rubashkin there were immigrant workers who were minors. The State of Iowa last month brought 9,000 counts of child labor violations, which could put company officials in jail for many years if they're convicted. Agriprocessors had no comment on these latest charges, but an attorney for the plant owner Aaron Rubashkin, Sholom's father denied them. Nathan Lewin says the company was cooperating with the Justice Department's investigation and he believes the family-run business is now the target of a vendetta.
Mr. NATHAN LEWIN (Attorney): There was no purpose other than publicity in arresting Mr. Rubashkin precipitously. And Agriprocessors is confident that when all the facts are known and presented in a public trial, the company and Mr. Rubashkin will be vindicated.
LUDDEN: Lewin says the legal turmoil also threatens a shortage of kosher meat. Jeff Abbas runs the local radio station in Postville just down the road from Agriprocessors.
Mr. JEFF ABBAS (News Director/Host, KPVL, Postville, Iowa): The beef line was shut down on Monday and they were told that they would not continue operation until Sunday. They were indeed sending out the cattle that were in the feed lots over there yesterday and they were shipping them out of town.
LUDDEN: Abbas wonders whether beef processing will actually resume next week. He and others say new workers recruited since the raid continue to be disenchanted with their working and living conditions and some have moved on. Sholom Rubashkin has been released as he awaits his next court date. In exchange, he agreed to pay a million-dollar bond and wear a monitoring device on his ankle, just as some of his former employees are wearing as they await their deportation hearings. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.