Six former U.S. attorneys general have criticized prosecutors’ recommendation that a kosher meatpacking plant executive receive life in prison for bank fraud.
The former attorneys general, as well as 17 other Justice Department veterans, expressed their concern in a letter to Linda Reade, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa who is presiding over the Sholom Rubashkin case. Rubashkin was the former manager of the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in Postville, Iowa, convicted last November on 86 counts of financial fraud. His sentencing hearing is set for Wednesday.
Earlier this month, federal prosecutors submitted a sentencing memorandum in the case in which they calculated that Rubashkin’s crimes resulted in a score on a federal sentencing guidelines scale that correlates with life imprisonment. The memo prompted expressions of outrage from a number of Jewish leaders. The U.S. Department of Justice has declined to intervene in the sentencing.
The letter writers noted the “potential absurdity” in prosecutors using the federal sentencing guidelines to calculate a recommendation of life in prison for Rubashkin, saying the guidelines can produce sentencing ranges that are greater than necessary and “lack any common sentencing wisdom.”
“We cannot fathom how truly sound and sensible sentencing rules could call for a life sentence—or anything close to it—for Mr. Rubashkin, a 51-year-old, first-time, non-violent offender whose case involves many mitigating factors and whose personal history and extraordinary family circumstances suggest that a sentence of a modest number of years could and would be more than sufficient to serve any and all applicable sentencing purposes,” the letter said.
The six former attorneys general to sign the letter are Nicholas Katzenbach and Ramsey Clark, both from the Johnson administration in the mid- to late 1960s; Edwin Meese III, who served from 1985 to 1988 during the Reagan administration; Richard Thornburgh, from 1988 to 1991 during during the Reagan and Bush administrations; William Barr, from 1991 to 1993 during the Bush administration; and Janet Reno, from 1993 to 2001 during the Clinton administration.
Kenneth Starr, the former judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, and solicitor general, has said he also will sign the letter.
Federal immigration officers raided the Agriprocessors Postville plant in 2008, arresting hundreds of employees. The raid set the company on a slow slide toward bankruptcy. Prosecutors dropped immigration charges against Rubashkin last November, just days after a jury convicted him of financial fraud.