Agriprocessors Officials Enter Not Guilty Pleas

Thousands of alleged child labor law violations represent the first criminal charges against operators of nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant following a May immigration raid.

WAUKON, Iowa (AP) -- Agriprocessors officials entered not guilty pleas Wednesday to thousands of charges of child labor law violations.

None of the five people charged, including plant owner Aaron Rubashkin or former plant manager Sholom Rubashkin, appeared in person in Allamakee County District Court. They all entered written pleas requesting jury trials.

Also charged in the case are the plant's human resources manager, Elizabeth Billmeyer, and Laura Althouse and Karina Freund, who are management employees in the human resources division. The company also was charged.

Defense lawyers in the case said they would seek to dismiss the charges and predicted that the case wouldn't move ahead quickly. F. Montgomery Brown, a lawyer for Sholom Rubahskin, noted that just reading through all of the charges would take some time.

"If the judge read one instruction per charge per minute it would be like 18 days of court," Brown said. "Something's got to give."

Each defendant faces 9,311 individual counts -- one for each day a particular violation is alleged for each worker. The state's charges allege that 32 underage workers were employed illegally at Agriprocessors, performing tasks that ranged from using meat grinders and circular saws to cleaning cutting floors with powerful chemicals.

The charges are simple misdemeanors under Iowa law, each carrying a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a fine of $65 to $625.

Mark E. Weinhardt, an attorney representing Aaron Rubashkin, said a trial was at best "months away." He predicted a raft of motions.

"We'll be studying the complaint to determine what all the basis for the charges is," Weinhardt said. "... There hasn't been a prosecution of this type in the state ... there's not much precedent."

He said the charges against his client were implausible, and he mocked the notion that Aaron Rubashkin, the plant's owner, helped hire staff at the plant.

"He is 83 years old," Weinhardt said. "He is a resident of Brooklyn. He very rarely came to Postville during the time of these charges."

Brown said he was concerned that many of the witnesses in the case had left the country or could soon be deported by immigration officials. He said he wanted a list of the alleged underage workers. So far, the state has provided only the initials of those involved.

"We may know two or three," of the names, he said. "We have to find out who these people are and find out whether they told HR they were 18 when they were hired."

Although the sheer number of charges is enormous, none of the defendants face more than simple misdemeanors. As a result, they were allowed to waive their right to a court appearance and enter written pleas.

The alleged violations represent the first criminal charges against the operators of Agriprocessors, the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant, after a May immigration raid. Agents arrested nearly 400 illegal immigrants working at the plant.

Among the 32 illegal-immigrant children allegedly working at the plant, the complaint filed by the Iowa attorney general's office claimed that seven were younger than 16.

The attorney general's office has said the violations occurred from Sept. 9, 2007, to May 12, 2008, when agents raided the plant.

Althouse and Freund were indicted Wednesday in a seperate federal case. Althouse has been charged with aiding and abetting document fraud and aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft. Freund has been charged with harboring, and aiding and abetting the harboring of undocumented aliens.

They were arrested on those charges last week. Both are scheduled to appear for arraignments on Sept. 24.

The company also operates a plant near Gordon, Neb.

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