Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue

Sholom Rubashkin (Cutting Edge News)
I was critical. Outraged even! Sholom Rubashkin seemed to lend credence to the false stereotype of a money hungry Jewish fraudster, I thought. Here was a bearded, recognizably Orthodox Jew doing what antisemites of the world suspect all Jews of doing – given the chance: Cheating the government out of lots of money while caring little about the welfare of his workers.

Rubashkin borrowed $27 million from a bank using inflated collateral. When his business went bankrupt, he did not have the assets he claimed as collateral to pay them back. That was a federal crime and he was tried in a federal court. Prosecutors asked for a 25 year sentence. This Chabad father of 10 got a 27 year sentence in a federal prison. Which does not allow for parole. The judge in the case, Linda Reade, said that his ‘lying’ in court and unrepentant manner deserved 2 extra years in prison beyond what prosecutors asked for. All of which was explained in her sentencing memorandum.

I had mixed emotions about this event at the time. One may recall that this all started with a raid by federal immigration officials of his Postville, Iowa Kosher meat processing plant, Agriprocessors. Hundreds of illegal aliens were arrested. There were allegations of employee abuse. Organizations like PETA accused them of mistreating the animals they slaughtered. This resulted in Agriprocessors going bankrupt. The allegations of employee and animal abuse were never proven and probably never will be since prosecutors decided not to prosecute Rubashkin after he was convicted of the fraud charges.

At the time I had suspected that Mr. Rubashkin was one of those people that takes advantage of circumstances and did not run his business in a way that would – let us say - be a Kiddush HaShem. And for that, I thought he should lose his business. With 20/20 hindsight, I am not so sure I was right about that. Although it was clear that he did commit the crime it seems clear from a variety of sources that he had every intention of paying back the illegal bank loan. He believed his business would eventually generate enough money to do that.

Not only that - even after he went bankrupt he tried to sell Agriprocessors whose assets were estimated to be worth $68.6 million. He had several potential buyers offering him well over the amount of his loan. But government interference prevented that from happening. From the Wall Street Journal
(E)vidence that the prosecutors hid and that Mr. Rubashkin’s attorneys found over the past few years proves that the prosecutors stymied the bankruptcy trustee from making a sale to prospective buyers at a reasonable price. Instead, they warned that buyers would forfeit the business if any member of the Rubashkin family maintained a connection to the firm, although no other family member had been charged. 
True, a crime was committed.  But it is ludicrous to say Rubashkin intended to defraud the government from the outset. Nonetheless the bank lost $27 million. And he was responsible for it. So he was punished. But the punishment he got was grossly unjust. A nearly 30 year sentence is a near life sentence for a first time offender of a white collar crime of an  illegally obtained loan where there was never any intent to not repay it.

At the time a lot of people (including me) thought the punishment did not fit the crime. Even one of his biggest detractors felt that way. There was more than one letter by respected past and present public officials asking the judge to be lenient in sentencing him. She ignored them and instead threw the book at him and then some… outlining her reasons in a sentencing memorandum. Which - if read out of context seemed to justify the sentence.

Agudah  went to bat for Rubashkin. Nathan Lewin, a high profile attorney, was hired to find ways to overturn the verdict upon appeal. He was unsuccessful. Shalom Rubashkin now sits in a federal prison having served 7 of those 27 years.

For me, this is a clear injustice. Whatever one might say about this Lubavitcher Chasid, there is no possible way that his sentence was just. Rubashkin was not an evil man. Far from it.  Everything I had heard about him from people that new him personally suggested that he was a good and decent man who did many kindnesses in his life. At worst they said he got in over his head, never wanting a career as a businessman – having left a career as an educator at his father’s behest.

So why am I bringing all this up now? Isn’t it old news? Yes it is. But it remains an injustice that should be corrected. Not only do I think so… so too does an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Rubashkin more than paid his debt to society for the crime he has been convicted of. It’s time to let him out. And is for the President of the United States to pardon him. Considering that President Obama has pardoned more criminals than any other President in history, one more pardon – which would be more than just – won’t hurt him.

Aside for the moral issue there are also questions about prosecutorial misconduct. I am not a lawyer, but the authors of that WSJ editorial are. Charles B. Renfrew served as was the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa and James H. Reynolds served as a U.S. District Court judge in the Northern District of California. Here is what they said: 
Under federal mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines for bank fraud, an offender’s sentence is directly linked to the loss incurred by the bank that was defrauded. The prosecutors’ meddling meant that the bank incurred a $27 million loss. This enabled the prosecutors to seek a staggering life-in-prison sentence for Mr. Rubashkin, which they later lowered to a still unacceptable quarter-century. The prosecutors concealed their role by soliciting false testimony from Paula Roby, counsel for the bankruptcy trustee, who said that the prosecutors did not interfere in the bankruptcy sale process. At sentencing, the prosecutors misled the court into believing this meddling never happened, a fact that was only recently discovered. 
A lot of people have said about this case that we shouldn’t be spending our political capital on this criminal. Let him rot in jail where he belongs. I have a major problem with this attitude. Because when a man, any man is treated unjustly, we cannot idly stand by and watch it happen. Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof.  Justice, Justice you shall pursue the Torah tells us (Devorim 16:20). This is our mandate. Rubashkin has more than paid a legitimate price for his crime.  Justice in this case means getting this man out of jail and back to his family.