December 21, 2017 / 2:41 AM / 6 months ago

Trump commutes fraud sentence of kosher meatpacker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump, in a first exercise of his power to commute criminal sentences, cut short the 27-year prison term of a kosher meatpacking executive who was convicted eight years ago of bank fraud, the White House said on Wednesday.

The commutation granted to Sholom Rubashkin, 57, marked only the second time that Trump has invoked his clemency authority as president, following the blanket pardon he granted earlier this year to Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona.

Unlike the case of Arpaio, whom a judge had found guilty of contempt in a case involving racial profiling, Trump’s latest action leaves Rubashkin’s conviction intact, as well as terms of his supervised release from federal prison and his obligation to make restitution.

Rubashkin was convicted in 2009 of 86 counts of financial fraud that came to light after a government raid on a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, where hundreds of undocumented immigrant workers were arrested.

Rubashkin, a father of 10, was the chief executive overseeing the slaughterhouse and headquarters for a family business that was then the largest kosher meat-processing company in the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 refused to hear an appeal contesting Rubashkin’s sentence, which his lawyers argued was excessive for a first-time, non-violent offender.

His lawyers also contended, to no avail, that he was entitled to a new trial based on evidence of alleged judicial misconduct.

The case sparked an outcry from members of the legal and Orthodox Jewish communities who rallied to Rubashkin’s defense.

The White House statement cited letters of support for review of Rubashkin’s case from more than 30 members of Congress of both parties, including House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and veteran Republican Senator Orrin Hatch.

Trump also pointed to bipartisan expressions of support for review of the case from over 100 former high-ranking U.S. Justice Department officials, prosecutors, judges and legal scholars.

The White House further noted criticism of Rubashkin’s sentencing as unusually harsh in comparison to penalties imposed on others for similar white-collar crimes.

Former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling was originally sentenced to 24 years in prison, but a federal judge later shortened his term of 14 years. The former CEO of Tyco International Ltd, L. Dennis Kozlowski, was sentenced to 8-1/3 to 25 years in prison and was paroled after serving eight.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler

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