President Donald Trump on Wednesday commuted the prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, the Iowa kosher slaughterhouse executive who was sentenced to 27 years in prison for fraud and money laundering.
The decision was “encouraged by bipartisan leaders from across the political spectrum, from Nancy Pelosi to Orrin Hatch,” said a statement from the White House.
Rubashkin is a 57-year-old father of 10 children. He previously ran the Iowa headquarters of a family business that was the country’s largest kosher meat-processing company. He was charged with defaulting on loans after his funds were frozen during a federal investigation into child labor violations that he was ultimately acquitted of, and immigration-related charges that the prosecution eventually declined to pursue.
“Rubashkin has now served more than eight years of that sentence, which many have called excessive in light of its disparity with sentences imposed for similar crimes,” the White House said.
“This action is not a Presidential pardon. It does not vacate Mr. Rubashkin’s conviction, and it leaves in place a term of supervised release and a substantial restitution obligation, which were also part of Mr. Rubashkin’s sentence,” the statement stressed.
“The President’s review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case and commutation decision were based on expressions of support from Members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community,” it continued.
“A bipartisan group of more than 100 former high-ranking and distinguished Department of Justice (DOJ) officials, prosecutors, judges, and legal scholars have expressed concernsabout the evidentiary proceedings in Mr. Rubashkin’s case and the severity of his sentence. Additionally, more than 30 current Members of Congress have written letters expressing support for review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case.”
In a recording circulated on the web, Rubashkin’s son said following the news, “I can’t even breathe. I can’t even try. I can’t even talk. My father is coming home. Baruch Hashem. G-d bless.”
Back in 2012, the Jewish Voice reported that in a decision that sent shockwaves throughout the Orthodox Jewish community, the United States Supreme Court formally declined to hear an appeal by Sholom Rubashkin on his conviction and prison sentence for bank fraud. The country’s highest judicial body rejected the glatt kosher meat producer’s request to undergo a new trial and have his 27-year jail sentence reduced, bids that an appeals court had previously upheld as “reasonable.” In his request, Rubashkin claimed that his lengthy incarceration – imposed for 86 counts of financial misconduct – violates federal sentencing laws for a first-time, nonviolent offender.
Convicted in 2009, Rubashkin had been arrested after federal immigration authorities raided his meat processing plant – which housed the nation’s largest kosher slaughtering house – and arrested 389 illegal immigrants in 2008. Rubashkin had argued that U.S. District Judge Linda Reade, who presided over his trial, was not an impartial judge in his case because records revealed that she had met with investigators to plan the logistical details of the sweeping immigration raid.
In addition to his primary attorney, famed Orthodox lawyer Nathan Lewin, Rubashkin hired Paul Clement, a highly regarded Washington attorney and former solicitor general under President George W. Bush, to pursue the appeal, which was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, a group of former attorneys general and a number of other legal experts.
“This is a sad day for justice in America,” stated Des Moines attorney Guy Cook at the time, who represented Rubashkin at his trial and is still involved in his defense. “It is remarkable the Court would ignore the many briefs submitted by a cross section of legal experts urging the court to review the case.”
In urging the Supreme Court justices to deny the appeal, the Office of the Solicitor General argued Rubashkin was unable to prove that Reade should have recused herself or that he was the victim of any actual bias as a result of her involvement in his case. Reade had argued that she was never given the identity of the raid’s target or where the raid would take place. Rather, she contended, she was only involved in bringing in enough judges and court staff to enable hearings at an offsite location, the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, which was utilized as a venue because of the large number of defendants.
The solicitor general’s office also pointed out that Rubashkin’s sentence was within advisory guidelines. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Rubashkin’s conviction and sentence in 2011.
In a statement sent to the media in the immediate aftermath of President Trump’s commutation of Rubashkin’s onerous prison sentence, the Orthodox Agudath Israel of America organization said:
“With a profound sense of appreciation, Agudath Israel of America gratefully welcomes the news of President Trump’s commutation of the sentence of Sholom Rubashkin.
The injustice of Mr. Rubashkin’s grossly excessive 27-year sentence was readily apparent to any fair-minded individual who reviewed the facts of the case. That is why so many Congressmembers from both sides of the political aisle, led by Senator Orrin Hatch and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and well over 100 former high ranking Justice Department officials and other legal luminaries, have been publicly calling for executive clemency.
Through today’s action, President Trump has shown that he too understood that something went terribly wrong in the prosecution and sentencing of Sholom Rubashkin – and, further, that he would not allow this blot on our criminal justice system to stand uncorrected. The president deserves to be congratulated and thanked – not only by Mr. Rubashkin’s family and friends, but by all who care about fairness and justice.
Agudath Israel has long advocated that Sholom Rubashkin be freed from prison and reunited with his loving family. That day has finally arrived. Baruch HaShem”