Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rubashkin Draws a Loyal Following

We usually don't post news stories, but i read this article this morning and noticed that as of yet it has gotten little coverage on the major Jewish news sites. So i decided to post this article here.

Photo by S.S.

By GRANT SCHULTE • • November 8, 2009.

Sioux Falls, S.D. - Sholom Rubashkin awakens early in his downtown Sioux Falls motel, prays at 6:45 a.m., chats with his lawyers and heads four blocks south for the legal fight of his life. Behind him, in a wood-paneled federal courtroom, throngs of Orthodox Jews with beards and skullcaps gather to watch his trial.

The unusual scene has repeated itself for almost a month now, as Agriprocessors Inc.'s former vice president stands trial on 91 financial fraud charges.

Supporters have come to Sioux Falls, S.D. - a quiet Midwestern city of about 142,400, with one synagogue listed in its phone book - from Australia, England, New York and other Midwestern cities. The stream of well-wishers has filled hotel rooms and turned heads on the street.

The supporters mostly keep to themselves, praying every morning and watching Monday Night Football and the World Series at night. Many have brought their own kosher food from New York, Minneapolis and other locales to adhere to their strict religious diet.

"It is a sacrifice," said Shmuel Raices, a rabbinical student from New York. "This is a very busy time for me. But you know what? Sholom would do this for me in a second."

Rubashkin's son, Getzel, 25, said his father has earned the support through years of charity work and other good deeds. The Orthodox Jewish community has followed the case closely, he said.

"All these people feel that supporting him is worth the trip to Sioux Falls," the younger Rubashkin said. "My father is loved and respected by many people, only a minute percentage of which have been physically able to attend the trial."

Prosecutors say Rubashkin's support in the Orthodox Jewish community and his charity work are irrelevant in the eyes of the law.

Rubashkin, 50, is charged with 91 financial crimes, including bank, mail and wire fraud, money laundering, and ignoring an order to pay livestock providers in the time required by law. He faces a maximum 1,280-year prison sentence if convicted of all counts. Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Monday.

He also allegedly conspired to hire and harbor illegal immigrant workers at Agriprocessors. A second federal trial for Rubashkin on 72 immigration charges is set to begin in Sioux Falls in December. He has pleaded not guilty.

Rubashkin critics blame the high-profile meat man for creating conditions in Postville, Ia., that made it a ripe target for law enforcement. Federal immigration agents raided Agriprocessors in May 2008 in a crackdown that exposed the alleged fraud but destabilized the local economy.

The raid, code-named "Operation Cedar Valley Junction," was based on evidence and tips collected over two years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney C.J. Williams objected to extensive references to Rubashkin's religion or charity work Thursday, before the former slaughterhouse executive testified. Defense lawyers countered that some references were needed to explain Rubashkin's appearance and his behavior at Agriprocessors.

"In a court of law, everyone is equal," Williams said Thursday. "Frankly, what Mr. Rubashkin does for charity doesn't matter."

Some supporters expressed anger at what they view as an unfair crackdown on Rubashkin and the plant he managed for years. Orthodox Jewish supporters point to the industry practice of hiring immigrant workers and ask why Agriprocessors was targeted.

"This is a witch hunt," said David Moskovitz, an Orthodox Jew from Chicago. "And you can quote me."

The supporters range in age from teenagers to men with white beards hanging over their chests. They squeeze into rows of wooden courtroom benches, muttering prayers and listening to testimony. Some sway back and forth - "shuckling" in Yiddish - while reading psalms.

At one point during testimony, U.S. District Judge Linda Reade admonished one supporter for sleeping in the courtroom. Reade warned the group again Thursday when a few spoke out loud during Rubashkin's turn on the witness stand.

Rubashkin has embraced supporters during down time at the courthouse. One well-wisher from Chicago was talking to a reporter from The Des Moines Register during a break last week when Rubashkin walked up, patted the man's back, grinned, and looked at the reporter.

"This is a good man," Rubashkin said, then turned and walked off.

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