POSTVILLE, Iowa — Antonio Escobedo ran to get his wife Monday when he saw a helicopter circling overhead and immigration agents approaching the meatpacking plant where they both work. The couple hid for hours inside the plant before obtaining refuge in the pews and hall at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, where hundreds of other Guatemalan and Mexican families gathered, hoping to avoid arrest.
"I like my job. I like my work. I like it here in Iowa," said Escobedo, 38, an illegal immigrant from Yescas, Mexico, who has raised his three children for 11 years in Postville. "Are they mad because I’m working?"
Monday’s raid on the Agriprocessors plant, in which 389 immigrants were arrested and many held at a cattle exhibit hall, was the Bush administration’s largest crackdown on illegal workers at a single site. It has upended this tree-lined community, which calls itself "Hometown to the World." Half of the school system’s 600 students were absent Tuesday, including 90 percent of Hispanic children, because their parents were arrested or in hiding.
Current and former officials of the Department of Homeland Security say its raid on the largest employer in northeast Iowa reflects the administration’s decision to put pressure on companies with large numbers of illegal immigrant workers, particularly in the meat industry. But its disruptive impact on the nation’s largest supplier of kosher beef and on the surrounding community has provoked renewed criticism that the administration is disproportionately targeting workers instead of employers, and that the resulting turmoil is worse than the underlying crimes.
"They don’t go after employers. They don’t put CEOs in jail," complained the Postville Community Schools superintendent, David Strudthoff, 51, who said the sudden incarceration of more than 10 percent of the town’s population of 2,300 "is like a natural disaster — only this one is manmade."
He added, "In the end, it is the greater population that will suffer and the workforce that will be held accountable."
Congressman Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) said enforcement efforts against corporations that commit immigration violations have "plummeted" under the Bush administration. "Until we enforce our immigration laws equally against both employers and employees who break the law, we will continue to have a problem," he said.
Julie L. Myers, assistant homeland security secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said that to the contrary, the agency has seldom been so aggressive, including opening criminal investigations of company officials. While cases have netted only a handful of sentences for low-level managers so far, Myers said, such white-collar crime investigations typically take years to develop.
"Can we really execute a search warrant without taking any action against [illegal employment] that we know is taking place?" she asked. "Or will just taking business records through a search warrant cause illegal aliens to leave, and then we’re not fulfilling that part of the mission, as well?"
Jewish Whistleblower writes:
Will the Rubashkins be Prosecuted? Will they serve any time?
Perhaps the answer lies with family member Rabbi Milton Balkany and his connections with senior politicians.
Balkany is married to Sarah Rubashkin, an occasional lecturer on Chabad Hasidim, with whom he has 13 children. His father in law is Rabbi Aaron Rubashkin the founder of Agriprocessors. His brother-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Rubashkin is a member of the board of the Community Council in Crown Heights. Another brother-in-law Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin is the current CEO of AgriProcessors.
Balkany recently lost a libel suit against the NY Village Voice that further exposed his ties with senior polititions and an alleged prison bribery scheme.
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Rabbi Balkany vs. The Village Voice.
Summary Judgment motion from Voice succeeds March 19, 2008.
"ORDERED that defendants’ motion for summary judgement is granted and the complaint
is dismissed with prejudice as against defendants Village Voice Media, Inc., Tom Robbins and
Materials filed March 25, 2008, New York County Clerk’s Office.
Excerpts from Order only posted below:
SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK – NEW YORK COUNTY
Judge Shirley Werner Kornreich
Index Number : 112604/2004
BALKANY, MILTON RABBI
VILLAGE VOICE MEDIA
Sequence Number : 003
Regarding thc Zakharov Statements, Robbins avers that he did not simply rely on The Daily News’ reporting. He claims that he obtained a copy Zakharov’s October 30, 2003 hearing transcript in federal court before Judge Allen Hellerstein. At the hearing, Zakharov detailed the specifics of his involvement in the bribery schcme. The transcript quotes Zakharov as stating that from January to August 2001, he along with Vadim Kaplun (Sam Kaplun’s son) collected money from federal inmates for the purpose of moving them from one federal facility to another. He claimed he then gave the money to Sam Kaplun, who would give it to a rabbi for the purpose of conveying the money to officials inside the federal government. Zakharov did not identify the
rabbi, but he described him as being associated with a Jewish school in the Borough Park area of Brooklyn. Judge Hellerstein then asked Assistant United States Attorney Evan Barr if the government knew who the rabbi was. Mr. Barr stated that the government did know the identity of the rabbi.
Robbins next avers he was independently able to verily Rabbi Balkany as the rabbi named in the prison bribcry scheme by tracking down Zakharov in Florida and interviewing him on or about February 24, 2004. During the interview, Zakharov told him that Rabbi Balkany was
the rabbi referred to at his hearing bcfore Judge Hellerstein and that the money he gave to Sam Kaplun was supposed to go to Rabbi Balkany and then onto federal officials. According to Robbins, this interview served to independently corroborate what was originally reported in the Daily News from its "law enforcement sources".
Robbins also avers that he obtained the transcript of Sam Kaplun’s appearance before Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gornstein on November 24, 2003. This transcript details Kaplun’s guilty plea to conspiracy to bribe a public official and outlines how he collected money and
passed it on to a rabbi in an effort to secure the transfer of inmates from one federal prison to another. Robbins interviewed Rabbi Balkany for the story and included the rabbi’s denial of the allegations and his statement that Zakharov and Kaplun both implicated him in order to receive leniency from prosecutors. Finally, in support of this motion, Robbins submits the allocution transcripts of Sam Kaplun and Zakharov, both of which took place after the Second Voice Article was published. During their allocutions, both Kaplun and Zakharov identify Rabbi Balkany as the rabbi who solicited bribes in connection with the requests to have prisoners transferred. In fact, during Zakharov’s allocution, Judge Hellerstein stated that Rabbi Balkany was the "major culprit" in the plan and expressed his disappointment that the government did not charge him.
…Rabbi Balkany submits his deposition testimony, in which he stated that he never charged families fees for the processing of the daycare voucher applications. He testified that he charged institutions lees in order to "hire lobbyists" and that before charging any fee, he asked Commissioner Scoppetta for permission. He further testified that he kept no records regarding the fees. He simply dealt with each institution on an ad hoc basis. In addition, Rabbi Balkany stated that the DOI never formally charged him with distributing any vouchers improperly. Moreover, Rabbi Balkany testitied that he did help Leona Helmsley while she was in prison by providing her with traditional Rosh Hashanah meals and helping her get released from prison temporarily to visit her son’s grave the day before Yom Kippur. In reference to Antar, Rabbi Balkany stated that he never helped Antar directly and that he only met Antar once in a kitchen during the tour of a prison. Rabbi Balkany claimed that he actually helped Antar’s cousin, who was in prison around the same time. When asked whether providing Antar with kosher food and assistance on religious holidays reflected poorly on him, Rabbi Balkany stated it did not.
Regarding the Congressman and Appeals Brief Statements made by Davis, Rabbi Balkany admitted that he helped Davis attend his son’s Bar Mitzvah. He contended that he never spoke to any congressman and detailed the process by which he attained Davis’ release. See EBT of Rabbi Milton Balkany pp. 426-427; 445-449. Rabbi Balkany denied arranging for Davis’ appeals brief to be read by a federal judge. However, he stated that he did meet with the Maryland U.S. Attorney, and that he may have received some paperwork from Davis prior to the meeting. However, he further stated that he was not sure he read the paperwork, and, did not state whether or not he brought these papers with him to his meeting with the Maryland U.S. Attorney.
Regarding the Zakharov Statements and the prison bribery scandal, Rabbi Balkany testied that he never met with Zakharov, but did meet with Sam Kaplun and helped his son Vadim get transferred to another federal prison. He denied that he met with or spoke to Vadim, stating he merely spoke with Rabbi Laskin who helped arrange for Vadim to receive prayer books, food, etc. Following this assistance, Sam Kaplun made a $5,000 donation to Rabbi Balkany’s yeshiva. Rabbi Balkany claimed he provided Kaplun with a receipt and thank you
letter. Finally, Rabbi Balkany testified that he did not ask for the donation from Kaplun in return for helping his son.
In addition, Rabbi Balkany testified that he helped Davis. He averred that he did not speak to a congressman, rather, he spoke to several government officials including the Maryland U.S. Attorney, head of the Bureau of Prisons, Attorney General Janet Reno, and finally, White House counsel Amber Mikva.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan who had charged a prominent orthodox rabbi with stealing grant money last year said yesterday that they would not prosecute the rabbi, Milton Balkany, who admitted that he was wrong in not complying with specific terms of the grant’s use.
Rabbi Balkany, the dean of Bais Yaakov, a Jewish day school in Borough Park, Brooklyn, had been accused of diverting about $700,000 in federal grant money administered through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The funds were supposed to be used for a school for disabled children.
Instead, according to a statement released by prosecutors, Rabbi Balkany said that the funds were used to pay administrative expenses at the school, the Children’s Center of Brooklyn, and at Bais Yaakov. ”Contrary to my understanding with HUD, I authorized the use of the grant to pay for general administrative and operational expenses of both Bais Yaakov and the Children’s Center of Brooklyn, even though I knew that the specific terms of the grant did not permit me to use the funds in this manner,” the rabbi said in the statement, which was released by prosecutors yesterday.
Under the government’s terms for avoiding prosecution, Rabbi Balkany must make restitution to HUD, agree to travel restrictions, and engage in ”good behavior” for six months.
According to a statement to the rabbi from the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, David N. Kelley, and two of his assistants, ”no further prosecution will be instituted in this district for the above offense unless you violate one of the special conditions.”
In August, a criminal complaint accused the rabbi of using the money to pay for life insurance premiums, income taxes, electronics and restaurant bills, among other things. He was charged with theft of government property, false claims, and wire fraud and obstruction.