Joseph Sarachek, a New York bankruptcy lawyer, was appointed by a federal judge to serve as the company’s trustee. The appointment gives him effective control over the business.
Sarachek was en route to Postville on Monday to tour the plant and try to get a handle on the situation. “Time is of the essence,” he said.
The company is in bankruptcy, and it suspended production last Monday. Scores of workers have gone without paychecks for at least two weeks. A makeshift food bank has been offering assistance to people since Friday.
Agriprocessors was Allamakee County’s dominant employer, but it has been struggling to survive since last May, when it was the site of a huge immigration raid. Its former top executive, Sholom Rubashkin, is in jail awaiting trial on federal charges of defrauding the company’s main lender and of helping immigrant workers gain false papers. Several other former managers also face criminal charges, and state officials have proposed millions of dollars in fines.
The Rubashkin family still owns the business, Sarachek said, “but they’re no longer in control.” A bankruptcy judge named him Agriprocessors’ trustee while the court sorts out how the company’s creditors can collect on the tens of millions of dollars they’re owed.
Sarachek said the company would be worth more if it were operating. He said he was bringing in two meat-industry experts with experience in kosher meat, which is Agriprocessors’ specialty.
Sarachek declined to discuss a Rubashkin family lawyer’s prediction last week that the company would be sold soon. However, he said he has heard from several parties expressing interest in a possible purchase.
Sarachek said he didn’t yet know enough details about the situation to predict when the company would be able to issue paychecks. But he said it’s crucial that the plant have a labor force to restart production.
Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Division, said several state agencies are helping Postville residents cope with the plant’s closure. For example, he said, the Utilities Board is helping tenants prevent shutoffs of power and water service. Workforce Development officials are helping workers sign up for unemployment benefits. The Department of Human Services is helping people get food stamps and other benefits. The Department of Economic Development gave Postville a $698,000 grant to help residents deal with housing, utilities and other needs.
Rosenberg has been serving as the governor’s point person in Postville. He said hundreds of families relied on the plant and now need help. He noted that numerous private groups also are assisting. Area churches and community radio station KPVL are providing food. A Minnesota synagogue sent a vanload of kosher food for the many Jewish families that worked at Agriprocessors.
Rosenberg said state experts also would help Postville leaders plan for a long-term recovery from the crisis.