The federal fraud trial of Sholem Rubashkin, the former CEO of the Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse, isn’t painting a very flattering portrait of the kosher butcher, who faces a maximum 1,280-year prison sentence on fraud charges—plus another potential 715 years for hiring hundreds of undocumented workers, in a second trial that will begin after this one concludes. It is, however, complicating the by-now-standard story of the slaughterhouse as a place abusive to both workers and animals. (Long story short, after years of accusations against what had been the nation’s largest kosher meat processor, a federal immigration raid in May 2008 led to its bankruptcy later that year.) Rubashkin, former employees and undercover government agents say, was a personally generous boss who lent money to employees and threw company water-skiing parties on the Mississippi River, but he was also incompetent and engaged in massive fraud. They allege that the company “survived on poor record-keeping, under-the-table deals, inflated salaries for top executives, and leadership that tried to expand the kosher meat producer beyond its means,” according to the Des Moines Register. One sales coordinator reported that Rubashkin came to her—at first, a couple times a week, but after the raid, several times a day—with fake invoices to process, like the one that claimed Eleazer Meyer, a Rubashkin family friend, had bought $44,325 worth of meat—but Meyer wasn’t a butcher, he owned a clothing store. A purchasing manager, meanwhile, reported constant fights between Rubashkin and his brother Heshy: “You would rarely see half a minute pass before you’d hear shouting. It was painful to watch.” Rubashkin’s lawyers motioned for a mistrial last week, on the grounds that evidence currently being admitted about undocumented workers at the plant is biasing the jury against Rubashkin on the only semi-related fraud charges. The judge rejected the plea.
Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.