Experts: Kosher slaughter house owners may be indicted

Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 390 employees of Agriprocessors plant - including 3 Israelis.

police 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
police 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Owners of the country's largest Kosher slaughter house that was raided this week could be indicted for a series of charges related to illegal immigration, experts suggest. In what the Immigration and Customs Enforcement called the largest raid of its kind, agents arrested 390 employees at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, Monday, more than a third of the company's workers. Three Israelis were among those being held on charges of being in the country illegally. Thursday, the slaughterhouse said it launched its own investigation into the circumstances leading to the raid and that it was making efforts to improve compliance with federal immigration standards. "We are working with experts in immigration compliance to help us bolster our compliance efforts to employ only properly documented employees," said Chaim Abrahams, a company representative, in a statement. An affidavit filed as part of an application for a search warrant lists pages of allegations against owners and supervisors of the company, including physical abuse and exploitation of workers. In that document a former supervisor claims that roughly 80 percent of the workforce was illegal. That source also said he saw production of the drug methamphetamines-also known as crystal meth-- at the plant and of weapons being brought there. Countless other charges include underpaying workers and knowingly hiring workers without documentation. One allegation claims a "Jewish floor supervisor" duct-taped the eyes of an undocumented Guatemalan worker, shut and hit the man with a meat hook, "apparently not causing serious injuries." Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress, says the government could go after owners of the company, as they have done in other meatpacking related raids, where owners were charged of harboring illegal aliens . The affidavit suggests at least one line supervisor who ran his own business of hiring illegal aliens, who were paid off the books. The government will most likely pursue him and possibly move up the chain of command, suggested Stern. "There is enough in the affidavit to suggest that the government is at least contemplating such charges," said Stern. At the same time, he said "it could be they wont be able to build a case, and it could be there is no case to build." Meanwhile local legislators have called for the company to be penalized. US Congressman Bruce Braley of Iowa, wrote a letter to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which conducted Monday's raids, urging them to "fully investigate" Agriprocessors for possible immigration law violations. Either way, Rubashkin's practices are "deeply embarrassing" said Stern. The company's practices go beyond the "horrible labor and safety records" of the meatpacking industry, Stern said. "You wonder how people look at themselves in the mirror," said Stern. "It's worse than embarrassing for a company that provides religiously acceptable foods to have this list of supposed allegations." Similar sentiment led members of the Conservative movement's Hekhsher Tzedek Commission to condemn the company this week, saying that kashrut requires more than adherence to ritual matters. "The actions of this company have brought shame upon the entire Jewish community," the commission said. "Yesterday's discovery, along with the other violations of the ethical standards set forth by our Torah and our tradition underscore the need for Hekhsher Tzedek. To be sure, halacha has never limited its concern to the ritual elements of kashrut alone." The Commission was established in part as a response to prior allegations against Rubashkin. The recent raid is the latest trouble to befall the Rubashkin family, the Chabad-affiliated owners of the country's largest Kosher slaughtering plant. Earlier this year, the company was fined $182,000 for violations at the plant. And in the past few years the company has been the target of an undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animals rights group, which criticized the company for certain slaughter practices. In 2006, the Forward newspaper revealed allegations that workers were underpaid and exploited. Agriprocessors produces about 60 percent of the kosher meat and 40 percent of the kosher poultry in the US market. So far the Orthodox Union which certifies and supervises Agriprocessors, is waiting to follow the lead of the Federal government. "We'll see where this leads in terms of determinations the government makes," Rabbi Genack told the Jewish Week. "If they find that the company is culpable we will respond. If the government concludes that the company's owners were culpable, "It certainly would be something we would be concerned about," he said.