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Former AGs request leniency in bank fraud case

By Chris Rizo | Apr 27, 2010

Janet Reno

Edwin Meese III

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (Legal Newsline)-- Six former U.S. attorneys general -- including Janet Reno and Edwin Meese III -- and 17 other senior Justice Department veterans say federal prosecutors are seeking a grossly excessive sentence in the financial crimes case of a former kosher slaughterhouse manager.

Sholom Rubashkin, 51, faces life in prison for financial fraud related to a corporate line of credit. His sentencing hearing will begin Wednesday, nearly two years after officials raided his family-owned Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant in the northeastern Iowa town of Postville.

The raid resulted in the arrests of 389 people on immigration charges.

Rubashkin, who has been jailed since November 2009, was convicted of 86 financial fraud charges that stemmed from fraudulent invoices he created to show the meatpacking plant had more income in than it actually did. The fraud cost the bank $26 million, prosecutors said.

At trial, Rubashkin admitted making mistakes in the line of credit, but denied criminal wrongdoing.

The former officials' letter to Chief Judge Linda Reade of the Northern District of Iowa, takes aim at federal sentencing guidelines that prosecutors used to calculate a recommendation of life in prison for Rubashkin.

The guidelines can produce sentencing ranges that sometimes "lack any common sentencing wisdom," they wrote.

"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 letter's signatories include former Justice Department officials from both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations. They said the sentencing recommendation submitted by prosecutors earlier this month is inconsistent with the sentencing of other corporate executives convicted in comparable cases.

Their letter points to the case of Mark Turkcan, a former president of First Bank Mortgage of St. Louis, who misapplied $35 million in loans. His actions cost the bank roughly $25 million. He was sentenced this year by a federal judge in Missouri to one year and one day in prison.

"To our knowledge, there is no empirical or other social science research to support the notion that life sentences or even long prison terms are necessary for, or even effective at, deterring white-collar offenses," the letter continues.

For their part, Rubashkin's attorneys have asked the court to impose a sentence no greater than 72 months.

The former attorneys general to sign the letter are Nicholas Katzenbach of the Johnson administration, Ramsey Clark of the Johnson administration, Meese of the Reagan administration, Richard Thornburgh of the Reagan and Bush administrations, William Barr of the Bush administration and Reno of the Clinton administration.

Among those who also signed the letter is former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman of the Clinton administration. The letter was organized by Alan Vinegrad, a former U.S. attorney from New York.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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