Rubashkin Cleared of Child-Labor Charges

Former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin has been acquitted of charges that he allowed minors to work at his kosher meatpacking plant, the first legal victory he’s scored in a long time.

After a five-week trial in an Iowa state court and 12 hours of deliberations, a seven-person jury on Monday cleared Rubashkin of the 67 misdemeanor charges in a verdict that made Rubashkin crack a smile in court and drew the praise of his defense attorneys.

“It’s been a long-running American opera,” defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown said outside the courthouse, the Des Moines Register reported. “This act was written by a very courageous jury. This act can never be taken away from Sholom and his family—ever.”

State prosecutors, with the help of testimonies from 26 alleged child workers and former Agriprocessors managers, had accused Rubashkin of not just letting minors work at his plant but also allowing them to do so for up to 90 hours a week and around such dangerous materials as powered saws and knives, bleach and dry ice. But Rubashkin’s lawyers denied the charges, pointing to his firing of minors as proof that he didn’t want to employ kids. They said minors who did work for the company only did so after tricking the company with false identification documents.

The minors who testified acknowledged that they had used false documents and lied about their identities in order to get a job. Agriprocessors was the site of a major immigration raid in May 2008 and the company filed for bankruptcy later that year. (The company has been bought out of bankruptcy and is now run by SHF Industries under a new name, Agri Star.)

Iowa’s deputy attorney general, Thomas H. Miller, maintained that Agriprocessors was not a friendly place for workers.

“There were not only wholesale violations of Iowa’s child labor law,” he said. “There was abundant evidence to support the claim that there was extortion, sexual abuse and forced labor committed against the population of workers at Agriprocessors.”

While Rubashkin and his family were pleased with Monday’s ruling, they must now await his June 22 sentencing for the financial fraud a federal jury found him guilty of last fall. Federal prosecutors are seeking to put him behind bars for 21 to 27 years for defrauding the company’s lender. That case has delivered Rubashkin many setbacks, from the guilty verdict and appeals that haven’t gone his way to denials of his request for a new trial as well as his pleas for the ability to better practice his Orthodox Jewish faith while in prison.