President Donald Trump on Wednesday commuted the prison sentence of a former Iowa meatpacking executive who employed hundreds of illegal aliens and was convicted on fraud and money laundering charges stemming from an investigation by immigration authorities.
Sholom Rubashkin, a former manager at the now-defunct Agriprocessors kosher meat company, has served eight years of a 27-year sentence handed down after his 2009 conviction.
Trump’s decision came after a review of Rubashkin’s case and “expressions of support from Members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community,” the White House said in a statement. The commutation does not vacate Rubashkin’s conviction and leaves in place a parole term and restitution obligation.
Rubaskin oversaw operations at Agriprocessors’ family-owned meatpacking plant in Northern Iowa, which was the country’s largest kosher meat producer. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the plant in May 2008 and arrested nearly 400 Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants who were living and working in the country illegally.
The investigation touched off a chain of events, including a bankruptcy declaration by Agriprocessors, that turned investigatiors on to suspicious invoices and other sales records that Rubashkin had falsified to make the company appear more profitable, reports the Des Moines Register. Prosecutors accused him of using the fake documents to defraud a St. Louis-based bank of $27 million.
In November 2009, Rubashkin was convicted of 86 counts of financial fraud and money laundering. U.S. federal Judge Linda Reade hit Rubaskin with a sentence of 27 years, two more than prosecutors had requested.
Though he was not convicted of other crimes beyond the financial and money laundering offenses, Rubaskin had been cited by federal and state investigators for a variety of misdeeds involving animal cruelty, food safety, child labor, and the hiring of illegal alien workers. Immigration charges against Rubashkin were dismissed after federal prosecutors determined that a conviction on the charges would have no impact on his sentence.
Rubaskin’s lawyers claimed his relatively harsh sentence was the result of prosecutors’ meddling in the bankruptcy sale of the Agriprocessors plant. Prosecutors misled Reade about their actions leading up to the sale when they scared away potential buyers willing to pay more than the eventual selling price of $8.5 million, the defense team said.
Reade dismissed those claims at the time, saying she handed down a tough sentence based on more than losses suffered by creditors in the bankruptcy.
“(Rubashkin) orchestrated a massive criminal scheme that impacted a very large community, that is, defrauded financial institutions for approximately 10 years, harbored an illegal workforce and laundered millions of dollars in an effort to provide kosher products across the nation,” she wrote in her ruling, according to the Register.
Following his conviction, Rubaskin’s case became a cause celebre for some former senior Justice Department officials and lawmakers. In 2016, more than 100 high-ranking judges and prosecutors, including three former attorneys general, signed a letter calling for Rubashkin’s sentence to be shortened, citing concerns about the evidentiary proceedings in his trial.
Despite six amicus briefs joined by numerous legal heavyweights, the Supreme Court in 2012 denied a petition from Rubashkin to look into his case and sentencing.
News of Rubashkin’s commutation was greeted with joy among his community of Chabad-Lubavitch Jews in New York. Outgoing New York City Council member David Greenfield, an Orthodox Jew who represents the neighborhood where Rubaskin’s family lives, called the news a “Chanukah miracle” on Twitter.
“After years of getting railroaded by the legal system, Sholom Rubashkin is finally going home thanks to [Trump],” Greenfield said.
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