Agriprocessors, a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, was founded by Chabad-Lubavitcher Abraham Aaron Rubashkin in 1987 and was officially managed by his two sons -- Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin and Tzvi Hirsch (Heshy) Rubashkin. The plant was the site of a massive immigration raid on May 12, which resulted in 302 undocumented workers, primarily from Guatemala and Mexico, facing both deportation and criminal identity theft-related charges.
That is the story that most know in connection with the Rubashkin family and Agriprocessors, Inc. Yet it is only one chapter of the lengthy history which hints at a quest for both political influence and market domination. Since the plant and family have once again found a place in the national spotlight, I hope the timeline I've developed will be of benefit. Although extensive, this timeline should in no way be considered a definitive list.
This project could not have been completed without the help of others. While I cannot name them all, I would be negligent if I did not mention Shmarya Rosenberg of FailedMessiah.com and the excellent staff at IowaIndependent.com.
1953 -- Abraham Aaron Rubashkin and his wife, Rivka, came to the United States from the Soviet Union to escape religious persecution. The family opens a butcher shop in Brooklyn, N.Y.
September 22, 1983 -- Moshe Rubashkin, a son of Aaron, was involved in a riot that left nine NYC police officers injured. He and three other Jewish men were charged with assault. Later, 250 Hasidim would take to the streets to protest the police action.
December 7, 1983 -- Moshe Rubashkin is indicted on felony assault and riot charges.
May 8, 1985 -- Moshe Rubashkin pleaded guilty to obstructing governmental administration and riot in the second degree, stemming from the September 1983 incident.
1987 -- Aaron Rubashkin buys a defunct Hygrade meatpacking plant in Postville and forms Agriprocessors, Inc. The plant first relies on immigrants from eastern Europe to provide a workforce.
1994 -- Milton Yehoshua Balkany, a son-in-law of Aaron, tries to have Dave Luchins, a former aide to Sen. Daniel Moynihan, excommunicated from the Jewish faith. Luchins had written memos complaining about Balkany's efforts to compel Israeli government officials to use U.S. aid money to fund projects Balkany favored.
August 17, 1995 -- The National Labor Relations Board finds against Cherry Hill Textiles, a Pennsylvania business owned by the family, for withholding union dues and failing to remit them to the union. The Board, in its decision stated that the Rubashkins had a "proclivity" for violating the National Labor Relations Act. The family had to repay all of the collected money with interest. The Rubashkin attorney was banned from practicing before the NLRB for six months.
2000 -- The book "Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America" is published by University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom. The book details tension between the Hasidic community centered around the Agriprocessors plant and "native" Iowans. The centerpiece of the book is whether the town will vote to incorporate the Agriprocessors factory, which was operating on unincorporated territory. Despite Agriprocessors management threatening to leave the community if the incorporation vote passed, residents vote to incorporate and Agriprocessors continues to operate.
March 2002 -- Agriprocessors enters into a consent agreement with the Grain, Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) and, while not admitting guilt, agreed to make timely payment for the full purchase of livestock purchases. Agriprocessors also agreed to pay a civil fine of $37,500.
July 31, 2002 -- Moshe Rubashkin was found guilty of bank fraud in connection with the family textile business and was sentenced to 15 months in prison and five years probation. He was also fined $233,000.
June 18, 2003 -- PETA wrote a letter to Agriprocessors alleging that Jewish law and "common decency" had been violated at the plant in conjunction with ritual slaughter. PETA threatened Agriprocessors with exposure if the company did not agree to hire Dr. Temple Grandin as a consultant.
August 2003 -- Milton Yehoshua Balkany, a son-in-law to Aaron, was charged with defrauding the government of $700,000. The funds -- a U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development grant for Bais Yaakov, an Orthodox Jewish girls' school in Brooklyn, to develop a facility for disabled preschoolers -- were routed to an Israeli company, family members and personal obligations (including Balkany's federal tax bill.) The grant was one of five separate grants, totaling $4.9 million that were funneled to Balkany from 1998 to 2002.
August 26, 2003 -- Noted constitutional lawyer Nathan Lewin wrote a letter to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in which he referred to himself as the attorney for Agriprocessors, Inc. Although Lewin would later misrepresent the letter in the New York Sun, PETA posted the letter on its web site.
October 23, 2003 -- Rabbis from various kosher supervisory companies and other interested parties allegedly met with senior U.S. Dept. of Agriculture officials in Washington, D.C. New directives were written that led to USDA inspectors' lackluster approach to the practice of "throat-ripping" at Agriprocessors, which would soon be the subject of an undercover video.
February 2004 -- Milton Yehoshua Balkany, a son-in-law to Aaron, was barred from lobbying officials in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and prohibited from seeking federal loans or grants. Balkany was ordered to repay $400,000 of a $700,000 misappropriated grant for the girls' school he managed and place a $300,000 lien against the school for the remainder.
February 23, 2004 -- Moshe Rubashkin was released from a New Jersey federal prison after serving several months on bank fraud charges connected to the family's textile interests. He began a four-year probation sentence.
December 1, 2004 -- The Northeast Iowa Citizens for Clean Water filed a civil action suit against Agriprocessors, Inc. The complaint alleged that Agriprocessors violated the Clean Water Act by failing to comply with pretreatment requirements for wastewater. It further complained that Agriprocessors violated the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act and the Clean Air Act for failing to properly submit emergency and hazardous chemical inventory forms and develop a risk management program for anhydrous ammonia. Eventually, the company signed a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and agreed to pay over $600,000 in fines.
December 2004 -- PETA posts graphic undercover video taken at Agriprocessors allegedly showing animal cruelty.
January 11, 2005 -- A case brought against Agriprocessors by Northeast Iowa Citizens for Clean Water was consolidated with a similar case brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
January 31, 2005 -- Moshe Rubashkin, released from prison less than a year earlier, was elected chairman of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, a group that receives $1.9 million a year in NYC and state social services and housing contracts. He continues to serve in that capacity.
April 2005 -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture completes an investigation of Agriprocessors and passes its findings on to federal prosecutors, but refuses to release the report to members of the press or PETA, which files a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the document.
June 28, 2005 -- Local Pride, a small kosher slaughterhouse owned by Agriprocessors, opens in Gordon, NE. The plant opens with the assistance of a Community Development Block Grant for $505,000 and potential tax credits of $3,000 per worker.
October 2005 -- Agriprocessors Brooklyn warehouse workers vote to unionize. Agriprocessors refuses to bargain.
2006 -- The Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration issues Agriprocessors six violations.
March 2006 -- The USDA investigation of Agriprocessors, kept confidential for more than a year, is released to PETA through a Freedom of Information Act Request. The report indicates that Agriprocessors violated animal cruelty laws and that inspectors, instead of stopping the inhumane practices, took improper gifts of meat from company managers. The report details that 10 inspectors made faulty inspections of carcasses, failed to correct unsanitary conditions and slept or played games on the job. Federal prosecutors, given the report, "decided it was not a prosecutable case."
March 2006 -- USDA issued Agriprocessors management a "Letter of Warning" and details a list of problems at the plant that are affecting food safety.
May 26, 2006 -- A news article in the Jewish Daily Forward prompted the formation of an independent rabbi commission to investigate allegations of worker abuse at Agriprocessors.
August 31, 2006 -- The National Labor Relations Board ordered that Agriprocessors had to honor a union vote at their Brooklyn facility. Agriprocessors management had argued that because many who voted to unionize were illegal aliens, the vote did not have to be honored.
September 2006 -- USDA issued Agriprocessors management a "Letter of Warning" and, in the three-page letter, details problems at the plant. "These finding lead us to question your ability to maintain sanitary conditions, and to produce a safe and wholesome product."
January 24, 2007 -- Agriprocessors issued a voluntary recall of about 2,700 pounds of potentially underprocessed frankfurters shipped to New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. It was a Class I recall -- the highest classification given to consumer recalls when use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.
February 2007 -- An article in Kosher Today -- a publication by Rubashkin friend Menachem Lubinsky -- indicated an OSHA inspection took place at the plant and that the facility was given a clean bill of health. OSHA, however, said no such inspection happened.
March 2007 -- Estaurdo Salazar and 20 other current or former workers at Agriprocessors filed a class action lawsuit claiming the company routinely failed to pay employees for hours worked.
May 2007 -- PETA released second undercover footage, citing additional charges of animal cruelty at Agriprocessors' Local Pride operation in Nebraska.
May 7, 2007 -- About 200 workers at Agriprocessors walked out when several employees were questioned about Social Security Administration no-match letters. The workers believed that reconciling the reports would force them back to starting pay scales. The federal government would later use the same no-match letters in their search warrant affidavit for the May 12 immigration raid.
September 12, 2007 -- Moshe Rubashkin and his son Sholom Rubashkin were arrested on indictments issued in Pennsylvania. Moshe faced one count of illegal storage of hazardous waste without a permit. Sholom faced one count of making a materially false statement. The changes stem from their ownership and operation of a textile dyeing, bleaching and weaving business, Montex Textiles, located in Allentown, PA.
October 1, 2007 -- The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York ordered Agriprocessors and Nevel Properties Corp., both owned by the Rubashkin family, to pay $1.4 million to the bankruptcy trustees of Allou Distributors, Inc., a N.Y.-based health and beauty supply company. Through the two named companies, the Rubashkins were found to have accepted $3.2 million in payments from Allou for unknown reasons. Sholom M. Rubashkin, a son of Aaron and then vice president and chief executive of Agriprocessors, originally stated that nothing was given to Allou in exchange for the payments. He later switched his testimony to reflect that the health and beauty company purchased $3.2 million in kosher meat.
October 26, 2007 -- A motion by Agriprocessors to dismiss a class action lawsuit for unpaid wages (filed in March) was denied in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids.
November 14, 2007 -- Congressional letter signed by four members of the House of Representatives was sent to the USDA inquiring about food safety at Agriprocessors.
January 4, 2008 -- U.S. Court of Appeals refuses Agriprocessors' petition for review of a National Labor Relations Board decision that the company had to honor a vote to unionize at its Brooklyn facility.
January 7, 2008 -- Sholom Rubashkin, son of Moshe, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of making a materially false statement. The charges stemmed from he and his father's ownership and operation of a textile factory in Pennsylvania, that was gutted by a series of unexplained fires. Although originally scheduled for sentencing in March, the sentencing was postponed to November.
January 17, 2008 -- The UFCW released the results of a food safety investigation into sodium levels in Agriprocessors' products sold under private label at Trader Joe's. The report also detailed high sodium levels in Agriprocessors' national brand, Aaron's Best.
February 4, 2008 -- Moshe Rubashkin pleaded guilty in federal court to charges that he illegally stored hazardous waste at a textile factory he owned and operated in Pennsylvania. The factory fell victim to a series of unexplained fires in 2005. Moshe's sentencing hearing was postponed from July to November.
February 29, 2008 -- The UFCW released a second food safety report detailing concerns at Agriprocessors' Local Pride plant in Gordon, NE.
March 20, 2008 -- Iowa Occupational Health and Safety (IOSHA) issued a press release detailing 39 violations of safety and health at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, and issued an $182,000 fine. The 39 violations are more than the total violations at all Iowa meat plants for the year 2007.
March 26, 2008 -- Consumer group Food and Water Watch released a report entitled More Foul Fowl: An Updated Analysis of Salmonella Contamination in Broiler Chickens, which revealed plants with high levels of Salmonella testing failures, Agriprocessors among them.
April 15, 2008 -- Carlos Tzirin-Rodriguez, a former Agriprocessors worker and illegal immigrant, was arrested by ICE agents.
April 16, 2008 -- The respected kosher supervision agency, K'hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ) officially dropped its certification on all Agriprocessors products.
May 12, 2008 -- Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement surrounded Postville and Agriprocessors. Nearly 400 workers were detained, making the incident the largest single-site operation ever conducted by federal authorities. Detainees were bussed to the National Cattle Congress fairgrounds in neighboring Waterloo where they were held in makeshift dormitories and charged criminally. Most of Postville's Hispanic community took sanctuary in St. Bridget's Catholic Church and remained there for six days.
May 13, 2008 -- Stephen Bloom, author of a book on Postville, told Iowa Independent that the plant raid was inevitable.
May 13-16, 2008 -- Detainees from the immigration raid were run through makeshift courtrooms at the Waterloo fairgrounds for initial appearances in groups of 10. Most of those detained faced charges related to identity theft, most took plea bargains and were sentenced to five-month stints in federal prison before deportation. A number of juveniles, medically-dependent individuals and women were released back into Postville with ankle tracking devices.
May 22, 2008 -- 297 of the 302 Agriprocessors workers facing criminal charges pleaded guilty.
May 27, 2008 -- Uri L'Tzedek, a grassroots Orthodox social justice organization, delivered a letter to Aaron Rubashkin demanding federal minimum wages, workplace and worker safety and ethical practices. The letter was signed by hundreds of U.S. kosher meat consumers, including 200 pulpit rabbis, Hillel directors, day school principals, educators and other community leaders.
May 29, 2008 -- The Iowa Division of Labor Services, citing informal meetings and Agriprocessors promises of compliance, reduced fines for numerous health and safety violations at the plant from $182,000 to $47,750.
May 31, 2008 -- Labor Ready, a Waterloo staffing firm hired by Agriprocessors to fill a worker void after the raid, pulled more than 100 workers from the plant due to safety concerns.
June 5, 2008 -- Agriprocessors hired Jim Martin, a former U.S. Attorney in Missouri, as the company's compliance officer.
June 8, 2008 -- Author and investigative journalist John Bowe tells Iowa Independent that situation at Agriprocessors is an end result of "modern slave labor."
June 11, 2008 -- During a meeting of Agriprocessors management and leaders of Uri L'Tzedek, a liberal Orthodox activist group that organized a boycott of Agriprocessors products, Milton Yehoshua Balkany allegedly threatened the grassroots organizers, making reference to "the last guy who went up against my father-in-law."
June 13, 2008 -- Court translator Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas wrote an essay which was highly critical of the swift convictions of the Postville detainees.
June 20, 2008 -- An investigation by Iowa Independent revealed the identity of a supervisor accused in the federal search warrant of exploiting immigrant workers. In addition, the Iowa Independent informed federal prosecutors that the supervisor has fled the country to escape charges.
June 24, 2008 -- Getzel Rubashkin, a grandson of Aaron and son of Sholom, spoke before the Postville City Council. The city, already under economic distress as a result of the population decline, suffered from increased criminal activity, a result of the company's head hunters bringing homeless individuals from Texas to work at the plant.
June 27, 2008 -- Iowa Independent and La Parenza, a Spanish newspaper in western Iowa, detailed how a mystery advertiser sought meatapackers for Agriprocessors in Guatemala.
July 3, 2008 -- Two Agriprocessors middle-management supervisors were arrested at the plant and charged in federal court with encouraging illegal immigration. The U.S. Attorney's Office announces that they are seeking a third supervisor, Hosam Amara, who as fled the jurisdiction.
July 8, 2008 -- Uri L'Tzedek announced the end of its boycott of Rubashkin products.
July 11, 2008 -- 5W Public Relations, a firm hired by Agriprocessors in the wake of the May immigration raid to "deal with the blogs," is caught impersonating other members of the Jewish community in various blog comments. When the fake comments were traced back to a senior staff member, 5W chief executive officer Ronn Torissian attributed the mistake to "company growing pains."
July 17, 2008 -- The two Agriprocessors supervisors charged with encouraging illegal immigration pleaded not guilty.
July 21, 2008 -- Members of the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus announced plans to visit Postville and personally witness the aftermath of the raid.
July 22, 2008 -- Carlos Tzirin-Rodriguez, a 26-year-old former Agriprocessors worker, entered a guilty plea in federal court to using fraudulent documents in order to obtain employment. The man was not one of those detained in the raid, but was arrested on April 15. Federal officials declined further comment on what role, if any, Tzirin-Rodriquez played in the investigation of the company.
July 24, 2008 -- Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas, a court translator who worked the quick conviction cases of detainees from Postville, gave testimony to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law.
July 26, 2008 -- Immigrants remaining in Postville detailed their plight to members of the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Joe Baca, a member of the Congressional delegation, refers to the raid and subsequent criminal charges as a "kangaroo court."
July 27, 2008 -- More than 1,000 people lined the streets of Postville to call for immigration reform. Both the demonstrators and the counter-demonstrators agreed that employers who hire illegal immigrants should be held accountable.
August 5, 2008 -- The Iowa Labor Commissioner cites "egregious violations" of child labor laws at Agriprocessors and handed 57 cases to the Iowa Attorney General's Office for prosecution. Menachem Lubinsky, spokesperson for the Rubashkin family, denied any wrongdoing.
August 20, 2008 -- Jewish workers at Agriprocessors, citing non-payment of wages, walked off the job. Rabbi Menachem Weissmandl, who supervises glatt kosher meat and strictly kosher poultry at the plant, told Iowa Independent that the situation is "off limits to outside scrutiny."
August 21, 2008 -- One of the former Agriprocessors supervisors charged with encouraging illegal immigration entered a guilty plea with the court.
August 22, 2008 -- The Iowa Division of Labor Services issued an accusation of 31 new and repeat safety violations against Agriprocessors.
August 24, 2008 -- Iowa Gov. Chet Culver wrote in a guest column for the Des Moines Register that Agriprocessors was taking the low road and linked the situation there with novelist Upton Sinclair's book "The Jungle." Management responded by asking Culver to visit the facility. Culver declined the invitation.
August 27, 2008 -- The second of two former Agriprocessors supervisors facing charges of encouraging illegal immigration agreed to a federal plea deal.
August 29, 2008 -- Staff at the Iowa Attorney General's Office, working with agents with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, executed a search warrant at Agriprocessors.
September 5, 2008 -- PETA released a third video from inside the Agriprocessors plant and charged the company with inhumane slaughtering techniques.
September 9, 2008 -- Agriprocessors is charged with more than 9,000 child labor law violations by the Iowa Attorney General's Office. Named in the charges are Aaron Rubashkin, Sholom Rubashkin, human resources manager Elizabeth Billmeyer, human resources management employee Laura Althouse and human resources management employee Karina Freund. The same day agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Althouse and Freund at the Agriprocessors plant. By the afternoon, the Orthodox Union told Agriprocessors to hire new management or it would lose its kosher certification.
September 10, 2008 -- Aaron Rubashkin said the charges of child labor law violations were "baloney."
September 11, 2008 -- Dr. Temple Grandin, a national authority on humane livestock slaughtering, called Agriprocessors "sloppy."
September 12, 2008 -- Postville continued to be diverse with Europeans, Americans, Somalis and Palauans living in the community.
September 17, 2008 -- Two Agriprocessors human resources management employees are indicted by a grand jury on document fraud and immigration-related charges.
September 18, 2008 -- New York attorney Bernard Feldman is named as the new CEO at Agriprocessors. Information released by Agriprocessors omits the fact that Feldman represented the Rubashkins in an earlier bankruptcy case involving Allou Distributors.
September 19, 2008 -- Guatemalan Carlos Tzirin-Rodriguez was sentenced to two years in federal prison for identity theft.
September 25, 2008 -- Agriprocessors HR employees Althouse and Freund entered not guilty pleas in federal court.
September 27, 2008 -- Postville property management company GAL Investments ends an agreement with Jacobson Staffing, a company serving as Agriprocessors' human resource department. Controversial wage deductions were done, according to the company owner, to help community newcomers.
October 2, 2008 -- Attorneys that had previously represented Agriprocessors requested the court allow their removal as counsel. The attorneys cite non-payment. A federal judge agreed that the U.S. Department of Labor should be allowed to depose former Agriprocessors employees prior to their deportation.
October 7, 2008 -- The son of the former chief executive at Agriprocessors is outed as at least one person who helped found a supposedly grassroots, pro-Agriprocessors blog.
October 29, 2008 -- The state of Iowa accessed nearly $10 million in civil penalties for wage law violations at Agriprocessors. Althouse, a former human resources management employee at the plant, entered a guilty plea in federal court to conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens and aggravated identity theft.
October 30, 2008 -- Sholom Rubashkin, son of Agriprocessors founder Aaron Rubashkin and former chief executive at Agriprocessors, was arrested by federal authorities on charges that he conspired in immigration-related offenses. He would be released later that day on bail after he surrendered his passport and agreed to wear a tracking device. The Postville Jewish community came under scrutiny when a video surfaced of a celebration event after Rubashkin was released on bail. Also on this day, First Bank Business Capital filed a lawsuit claiming Agriprocessors had defaulted on a $35 million loan.
November 4, 2008 -- Moshe Rubashkin, a son of Agriprocessors founder Aaron Rubashkin, was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison for leaving hazardous waste inside the Allentown, PA textile plant he owned and managed. Agriprocessors filed chapter 11 bankruptcy in New York.
November 2008 -- Postville landlords began evicting tenants; Palauans seek ways to return home; ICE agents arrested another worker at the Agriprocessors plant; and Local Pride, the Agriprocessors-affiliate in Nebraska, ceases production. The economy goes from bad to worse in Postville as more former workers find themselves out-of-work, without a home and unable to care for themselves. Many organizations collected donations on behalf of the people of Postville.
November 14, 2008 -- Sholom Rubashkin is again arrested by federal authorities -- this time on charges of multi-million dollar bank fraud. The court would later refuse to release Rubashkin on bail a second time, citing money found in his home and belief of flight.
November 21, 2008 -- The U.S. Attorney's Office of Northern Iowa unsealed a new grand jury indictment for Agriprocessors, Sholom Rubashkin, plant operations manager Brent Bebee, former poultry manager Hosam Amara, former plant poultry manager Zeev Levi and human resources management employee Karina Freund. All faced new charges related to immigration and document fraud. Postville Mayor Bob Penrod asked the Iowa Governor's Office to declare his town a human and economic disaster area.
November 23, 2008 -- The trustee in the chapter 11 bankruptcy visits the Postville plant. Agriprocessors argues that since its CEO Bernard Feldman wants to accompany the trustee on his Iowa visit, hearings to change the venue of the bankruptcy from New York to Iowa should be postponed.
November 25, 2008 -- Company trucks and tractor-trailers were repossessed. Drivers report weeks without pay, and unpaid medical expenses.