The much-anticipated trial of Sholom Rubashkin — former CEO of the country’s largest kosher meat processing plant and a member of a powerful Crown Heights Lubavitch family — began in at a federal court in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Wednesday, with a slaughterhouse worker testifying that she faked records for Rubashkin.
Rubashkin faces 72 counts of immigration fraud relating from a May 2008 raid that gutted the plant’s workforce and pushed the factory into bankruptcy.
In the raid — one of the largest in the country at the time — authorities charged that the Rubashkins withheld pay and used workers as young as sixteen. In this first trial, Rubashkin is accused of presenting the plants lender with false financial papers so he could obtain advances on a $35 million dollar loan. He faces 91 criminal charges including bank fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud…
Last year, as the factory was heading toward bankruptcy, we wrote a profile of the family in its stronghold of Crown Heights. Rubashkin money is spread all over Crown Heights, from schools to soup kitchens, and the family has been instrumental in drumming up support for politicians within the community. (State Senator Eric Adams drove all the way to Philadelphia to show up at the trial of Sholoms brother Moshe last year. Moshe was convicted of illegally storing toxic waste, and is currently incarcerated in a federal prison in New York). And while the factory’s poor environmental and immigration record caused Jews across the country to question the very meaning of eating kosher meat, Crown Heights closed ranks in support of the Rubashkins.
Here are some highlights from the trial this week:
• A worker testified that Sholom Rubashkin seemed antsy on the day of his arrest. Rubashkin’s defense lawyers countered that, for Sholom, hyper is normal.
We have to agree with him here; both Rubashkin brothers are noticeably excitable and hyper, especially when they talk about Judaism. (You can read an interesting profile of this aspect of Sholom in journalist Stephen Bloom’s book, Postville, which is about the relationship between the ultra-orthodox Jews and the residents of the Lutheran town where they built the factory.) At his trial in Philadelphia, Moshe was very excitable. In testimony, he gave a long, meandering speech about the history of the Lubavitch.
• Another employee at the plant testified that, on the day of Sholom’s arrest, he sent another employee to ask her whether she could alter prior invoices. This is a central issue in the trial, since prosecutors allege that Rubashkin directed employees to falsify sales records in a plot to mislead the plant’s lender about declining finances, writes Grant Schulte of the Des Moines Register.
• “Everyone who knows him, knows him as a great man,” said Eli Ezer Pinson, 21, who joined a 24-hour bus ride from Brooklyn to show his support. “People look up to him. He always made time for everyone.” In USA Today, Shulte describes the scene at the trial: Rubashkin supporters pack the courtroom and defend him at every opportunity. Some gather outside to watch a live feed and repeat Hebrew psalms feverishly.
(When we watched Moshe Rubashkin’s trial in Philadelphia, we witnessed a similar scene: People came from Crown Heights to Philly on a chartered bus to show their support. We specifically remember a woman praying to God that the judge would be confused.)