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Shea Hecht: “Sholom Rubashkin Refused Plea Bargain”

By Nathaniel Popper for the Forward

The trial of former kosher slaughterhouse executive Sholom Rubashkin began in South Dakota on October 12, though only after a failed effort to reach a plea bargain, according to a close confidant of the defendant.

Rubashkin, the former CEO of the Agriprocessors slaughterhouse, was arrested last year, five months after his company was the subject of a massive immigration raid; most of the 163 counts that Rubashkin has been charged with relate to bank fraud and harboring undocumented immigrants.

Rabbi Shea Hecht, a leading Chabad Lubavitch rabbi who has provided support to Rubashkin’s defense, told the Forward that Rubashkin, 49, wanted to strike a plea bargain with the U.S. attorneys to avoid a jury trial.

“There were negotiations — an offer was put on the table,” Hecht said. “He had to refuse the offer because compared to what he did wrong, they were asking for too much. There was no way that a man should give the prime of his life away.”

Hecht would not discuss the terms that Rubashkin would have accepted — but he did say that Rubashkin was willing to serve a prison term in order to strike a bargain. Hecht met with Rubashkin in person when the court gave Rubashkin permission to visit New York for the Jewish high holidays. Rubashkin has otherwise been out on bail in Iowa. Hecht said that when Rubashkin visited Hecht’s New York office, he expressed a desire to deal with the charges.

“He said, ‘Listen, things were done wrong, but not what they are claiming,’” Hecht said. “He was very confident.”

The United States attorney’s office that is prosecuting Rubashkin would not say whether a plea bargain had been discussed.

A lawyer for Rubashkin, Guy Cook, also would not comment. Rubashkin has pleaded not guilty to all 163 counts.

Rubashkin and his family are members of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect, and the family has received hefty support from other members of the sect in advance of the trial. The day before the trial began, dozens of children gathered at the last Chabad rebbe’s grave to pray “for a miraculous victory” for Rubashkin, according to a colorful poster for the event.

Earlier in the day, a bus load of Rubashkin’s supporters left from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and drove overnight to Sioux Falls. A woman who answered the phone at the number printed on an advertisement for the bus ride would not provide her name. She said that the funding for the trip came from private sources.

“It was a grassroots effort to pack the courtroom with supporters — and hopefully we’ll pull it off,” she said. “We’ll be able to show the court that this man is being charged incorrectly — and he really is what they call a tzaddik,” or holy man.

On October 13, as the trial began, The Des Moines Register reported that the court facilities were inundated with young supporters of Rubashkin. Rubashkin’s nephew, Yossi, told the paper: “I’m extremely optimistic about the trial. That might not make sense to you. It’s just faith. Faith in God.”

Rubashkin has also received significant financial support from a committee formed by the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, a Chabad organization that helps imprisoned Chabadniks. Hecht is chairman of the NCFJE, and he said that the group had already given funding “in the six figures” to help Rubashkin’s case. Hecht’s brother, Sholem Ber Hecht, is leading the committee dedicated to Rubashkin’s case.

“The community sees it as an attack, number one, on kosher food, and number two, as an attack on religious Jews,” Shea Hecht said.

The judge overseeing the case, Linda Reade, moved the trial from Iowa to Sioux Falls, citing the extensive press coverage. Reade warned the lawyers on both sides not to speak to the press in South Dakota. Rubashkin’s lawyer, Cook, told the Forward that the move gives Rubashkin “a chance at a fair trial.”

Rubashkin will face two separate trials supervised by Reade — the first relating to the bank fraud charges and the second, beginning as soon as the first ends, covering the immigration charges. The first trial will revolve largely around financial transactions involving a multi-million dollar loan that Agriprocessors received. The U.S. attorney intends to prove that Rubashkin “instructed employees at Agriprocessors to create invoices and bills of lading for sales that never occurred,” according to court documents.

Prosecutors intend to call as witnesses several former company managers who pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for cooperating with the government.

In court documents, Rubashkin’s lawyers have argued that the government will have trouble proving that he intended to defraud the bank and the government. The lawyers are submitting evidence that shows Rubashkin’s civic involvement and charitable work, including pictures of him at worship and in the company of rabbis and Iowa politicians.


  • 1. Chaim wrote:

    The treacherous, communist newspaper The Forward is the one who is responsible for the perdicement that Mr. Rubahkin finds himself from beginning to end.

    They are the remnants of the self hatting Jewish Bolshviks that put the Friediker Rebbe in prison and sent thousands of Jews to there death.

    They started hunting Sholom Rubashkin years ago. week after week they worked with their arch liberal buddy’s in PETA to destroy a good man.

    With this type of pressure, it is likely that Mr. Rubahkin may have made some mistakes, but what we have to remember is that this affair was started as more then a century old war on a way of life.

    Mi’ La’Hashem Ailyi!!!!

  • 2. annoyed wrote:

    Shea hecht should know better than that talking to a newspapper like the forward!
    And should know better not to post!

  • 3. Dovid wrote:

    Last I checked, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t get its marching orders from a silly no-nothing newspaper; they got it from the Bush administration.

    Trying to blame a left-wing rag in place of the real culprit, a right-wing administration bent on satisfying their immigrant-hating base, may make you feel good, but its also completely delusional.

  • 4. asher wrote:

    Nice of Rabbi Hecht to put in the paper that the same rubashkin who is pleading not guilty in court admitted to him in private that thngs weren’t done right.

  • 5. Clearly upset wrote:

    Why does Hecht have to TALK, there is no need to have outed such information….
    What does he gain? more pr?

  • 6. Who-s paranoid? wrote:

    It’s the Forwards fault!!
    No it’s the Jewish Bolshviks!!
    No wait it’s PETA!!
    That’s right they’re all in it together it’s a conspiracy they and the Prosecutors and the banks and the illegal immigrants.
    They’re all out to get him.
    Nothing like being a little paranoid maybe? He got caught and tried to plea deal with the wrong guys. The feds don’t play around.

  • 7. Hugh? wrote:

    “He said, ‘Listen, things were done wrong, but not what they are claiming,’” Hecht said.

    Now they will be looking for even more things they might have missed.

    With friends like Hecht he doesn’t need enemies.

  • 8. the government wrote:

    The RAID was the direct cause of failure to repay the bank,

    not “false documents”

  • 9. Olam Hasheker wrote:

    The tragedy in this great US of A is that when you’re found guilty of manslaughter you’ll get less than 10 years and with good behaviour you’ll be out in 5 years or so but if you loan application isn’t 100% correct and you hire some illegal aliens, which many companies do (otherwise there wouldn’t be millions of them in the US) you get 15 years, on a plea bargain none the less. Shame on these antiquated Gulag laws. Shame on this country.


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