Updated 6 p.m.
Lawyers representing Iowa slaughterhouse manager Sholom Rubashkin, who will receive a 27-year prison sentence today in a bank fraud case, want the U.S. Justice Department to closely examine the handling of the case to determine the fairness of the conviction and sentence.
Justice Department officials have publicly said DOJ is concerned about growing disparities in white collar sentencing, and the Rubashkin case is likely to add fodder to that ongoing debate. Earlier this year, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer declined to intervene in the Rubashkin prosecution, which was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa.
Rubashkin, 51, was convicted at trial last November on more than 80 fraud counts for his leadership role in a scheme that bilked a bank out of tens of millions of dollars. Rubashkin, according to his lawyers, did not personally benefit from the alleged scheme. He was trying to keep his father’s company afloat, Grefe & Sidney partner Guy Cook in Des Moines said today.
In April, prosecutors in Iowa backed down from a recommendation of life in prison and instead pitched a 25-year sentence. Yesterday, Chief Judge Linda Reade of federal district court in Cedar Rapids, issued a 52-page ruling that said Rubashkin will be sentenced to 27 years behind bars. Rubashkin and his lawyers are due in court this afternoon for the oral pronouncement of the judgment.
Rubashkin’s attorneys, including Nathan Lewin of Washington’s Lewin & Lewin, immediately attacked the prison sentence, calling it excessive. “The sentence is far greater than necessary. We think it is unfair, unjust and excessive,” said Grefe & Sidney partner Guy Cook, a lead trial attorney for Rubashkin. “Indeed, the sentence is greater than the sentence the government requested.”
Lewin said today he intends to urge the Justice Department to review the case “in light of the outcome.”
Cook and Lewin said Rubashkin will appeal the conviction and sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. That’s the same court that declined, earlier this year, to free Rubashkin pending sentencing. Lewin is expected to take a lead role in the appeal. Also, former U.S. Attorney Robert Barr of Atlanta, who runs a consultancy called Liberty Strategies, has joined the defense of Rubashkin.
“This sentence is inconsistent with the overwhelming view of the legal community, including six former U.S. attorneys general, who have all said a first-time, non-violent offense does not warrant a multi-decade sentence,” Barr said in a statement Monday. “The court’s sentence today is even more than prosecutors asked for, which is a very disturbing development.” (Click here for a letter that the six former attorneys general wrote to Reade.)
Rubashkin’s lawyers had asked Reade to impose a sentence of no more than six years. Reade's ruling is here.
U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose issued the following statement:
“Sholom Rubashkin expended enormous efforts to hide his many crimes from the public and law enforcement. On top of that, there have been orchestrated efforts to spread false information intended to elicit sympathy for him. It is a tragedy that many people were misled by this misinformation calculated to distract the public from the truth. The truth came out at trial and sentencing. No one won anything today as the damage caused by Mr. Rubashkin cannot be fully tallied. However, today the house of cards he constructed finally was brought down. When something is built on lies, it should be no surprise when it collapses under the weight of those lies.”