Immigration charges dropped in slaughterhouse case

AP News
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Posted: Nov 19, 2009 3:12 PM

A federal judge dismissed dozens of immigration charges Thursday against the former manager of a kosher slaughterhouse, at the request of prosecutors who had already won a conviction on multiple counts of financial fraud.

U.S. District Court Judge Linda Reade dismissed the 72 immigration charges just hours after the government made its request. In its motion, prosecutors said a conviction in that case would not affect the term Sholom Rubashkin serves because he was convicted of the charges with the longest sentences.

"Dismissal will avoid an extended and expensive trial, conserve limited judicial and prosecutorial resources, and lessen the inconvenience to witnesses," Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan wrote in the motion. U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Bob Teig declined to comment.

Both cases stemmed from a massive immigration raid at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in Postville in May 2008 _ at the time the largest single-site raid in U.S. history. Investigators found 389 illegal immigrants working at the plant, which employed nearly 1,000 people.

The plant cut production before falling into bankruptcy and being sold. Kosher meat production in the U.S. dropped off considerably, sending prices soaring. Postville watched its largest employer _ and Rubashkin, one of the town's biggest property owners _ enter bankruptcy, while the town's population plunged because of the lack of work.

Rubashkin, a former top manager at the slaughterhouse, initially faced 163 counts in an indictment that followed the raid. Reade divided the trial into 91 counts of financial fraud and 72 counts of immigration violations.

Last week, a jury in Sioux Falls, S.D., found Rubashkin guilty on 86 of the financial fraud charges. Reade has not announced a sentencing date.

Rubashkin has claimed he is innocent and intends to appeal the convictions. His attorney, Guy Cook, welcomed the dismissal of the immigration charges.

"It should have been done a long time ago," Cook said. "In spite of how the government has characterized this motion, we view this as a clear win for Mr. Rubashkin."

In his second trial, Rubashkin had faced charges of harboring illegal immigrants for profit, conspiracy to commit document fraud and aiding and abetting document fraud.

His attorneys had protested the government's introduction of alleged immigration violations during the financial trial. In the motion filed Thursday, prosecutors acknowledge that several of the financial charges were based on the assumption that Rubashkin harbored illegal immigrants.

"The jury's verdicts on several of the fraud and false statement counts were premised, at least in part, upon defendant knowingly making false statements to the bank with regard to the harboring of undocumented aliens at Agriprocessors," Deegan wrote.

Cook, however, said the government's language "overstates the jury's verdict on financial charges."

The government asked that the immigration charges be dismissed without prejudice, meaning it can file them again if circumstances change. Deegan wrote in the motion that "evidence of immigration violations would be relevant conduct" that Reade can examine when Rubashkin is sentenced on the financial fraud charges.