Trump issues first commuted prison sentence
BY JONATHAN EASLEY
President Trump on Wednesday issued his first commuted sentence for a federal prisoner, freeing Sholom Rubashkin, the former owner of the country’s largest kosher meat-processing plant who in 2009 was sentenced to 27 years in prison for a litany of financial crimes.
The commutation had bipartisan support from lawmakers and had become a cause among many leading voices in the legal community, petitioning the Obama and Trump administrations to draw attention to a sentence they said was wildly disproportionate to the crime that had been committed.
Rubashkin, a father of 10, will have served eight years of his sentence. The commutation is not a presidential pardon — Rubashkin’s conviction will stand, as will his terms of release and the restitution payments he will be obliged to pay.
Still, the commutation will clear Rubashkin of the remaining 19 years of a sentence that had been condemned by politicians on the left and the right as cruel and unusual.
“The President’s review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case and commutation decision were based on expressions of support from Members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community,” the White House said in a statement.
“A bipartisan group of more than 100 former high-ranking and distinguished Department of Justice (DOJ) officials, prosecutors, judges, and legal scholars have expressed concerns about the evidentiary proceedings in Mr. Rubashkin’s case and the severity of his sentence. Additionally, more than 30 current Members of Congress have written letters expressing support for review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case.”
Rubashkin was the CEO of a kosher meatpacking plant in Iowa, the largest in the country. Federal law enforcement raided the company in November 2008 and Rubashkin was found guilty of bank fraud and money laundering. Hundreds of Rubashkin’s employees were arrested for working in the country illegally.
Scores of the country’s leading legal experts, including four attorneys general, wrote to Trump earlier this year asking that Rubaskin’s sentence be commuted, arguing that the 27-year sentence was excessive because he was a first-time, non-violent offender.
“Essentially, Mr. Rubashkin was convicted of fraud offenses stemming from inflating collateral to obtain a higher line of credit for Agriprocessors, his father’s kosher meat business, and for paying some cattle owners 11 days late,” the lawyers wrote.
“Mr. Rubashkin is a devoted husband and father, a deeply religious man who simply doesn’t deserve a sentence of this length, or anything remotely close to it,” the letter continued. “Indeed, his sentence is far longer than the median sentences for murder, kidnapping, sexual abuse, child pornography and numerous other offenses exponentially more serious than his.”
This is the first time Trump has used the executive power to commute a federal prisoner’s sentence, although earlier this year he pardoned Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz.
Arpaio had been convicted of criminal contempt for disobeying a Justice Department edict against racially profiling Latinos.