Cedar Rapids, IA – Six former U.S. attorneys general and 17 other Justice Department veterans have signed a letter to the judge in the Sholom Rubashkin case, criticizing the prosecutors’ recommendation that Rubashkin receive life in prison for his bank fraud conviction. They note the “potential absurdity” in prosecutors using the federal sentencing guidelines to calculate a recommendation of life in prison for Rubashkin, noting the guidelines can produce sentencing ranges that are greater than necessary and “lack any common sentencing wisdom.”
“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.
It is an unprecedented accumulation of support from across the political spectrum, including a wide range of views on legal philosophy and federal sentencing guidelines. The former Justice Department officials include an array of both Democratic and Republican appointees, including those who served in every administration from Lyndon B. Johnson through George W. Bush.
You can read the full letter with all signatures here PDF
The six former attorneys general to sign the letter are: Nicholas Katzenbach (Johnson administration, 1965-1966), Ramsey Clark (Johnson administration, 1967-1969); Edwin Meese III (Reagan administration, 1985-1988); Richard Thornburgh (Reagan and Bush administrations, 1988-1991); William Barr (Bush administration, 1991-1993) and Janet Reno (Clinton administration, 1993-2001).
Also signing the letter are former deputy attorneys general Jamie Gorelick (Clinton administration, 1994-1997) and Larry D. Thompson (George W. Bush administration, 2001-2003) and former solicitor general Seth Waxman (Clinton administration, 1997-2001). The letter and full list of signatories are attached.
In addition, Kenneth Starr, the former judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit (1983-1989) and solicitor general (George H.W. Bush administration, 1989-1993) has announced his intention to sign the letter.
“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.
The letter goes on to say that a sentence of life or decades in prison would be “inconsistent with the traditional purposes of punishment” and “would produce a gross disparity in treatment.” Such a severe sentence, the attorneys argue, “undermines the congressional goal of fairness and proportionality in federal sentencing.”
The letter has been sent to Hon. Linda Reade, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, who will announce Rubashkin’s sentence on April 29, 2010.
The Justice Department veterans have joined a growing chorus of political, legal and community leaders who have expressed dismay at the sentencing recommendation and the potential for Rubashkin to receive life in prison for his bank fraud conviction. In addition to the letter, other expressions of support have come from former federal Judge Paul Cassell, attorney Alan Dershowitz, former Rep. Bob Barr and numerous American Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League. And more than 30,000 people have signed an online petition arguing Rubashkin “has been singled out for cruel and unusual punishment and punished much more severely than anyone else.”
Rubashkin was convicted for his role as an executive with the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. The sentencing recommendation submitted by prosecutors to the court earlier this month is inconsistent with the sentencing of other corporate executives convicted in comparable cases. The letter compares the Rubashkin case to that of Mark Turkcan, the president of First Bank Mortgage of St. Louis, who misapplied $35 million in loans, resulting in a loss of approximately $25 million. Turkcan was recently sentenced by a federal judge in Missouri to one year and one day in prison.
Prosecutors and the U.S. Probation Office have calculated the total offense committed by Rubashkin at level 45 under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, but the federal Sentencing Table caps at level 43. An offense level of 43 is punished with a life sentence under the sentencing guidelines.
Rubashkin’s attorneys have asked the court to impose a sentence no greater than 72 months, noting his positive history and character, his extraordinary family circumstances, and the arbitrary nature of the now-advisory guidelines used by prosecutors. They emphasize that Rubashkin’s conduct was not done for personal gain, that he did not intend any loss to the bank, and that a 72-month sentence would allow the Bureau of Prisons to place Rubashkin in a facility with experience in effectively and humanely incarcerating observant Jewish inmates.
Rubashkin was originally indicted for employing illegal immigrants, an offense that has been punished with probation or a short prison term. After seven superseding indictments and the court’s order separating the trials on immigration charges from the bank fraud charges, prosecutors chose to proceed to trial on the bank fraud charges so as to increase Rubashkin’s punishment. Interest was paid on all of the money drawn by the allegedly fraudulent loan, and the bank acknowledged that it received approximately $21 million in profit from the interest payments.
The bank loan was not paid in full because the government’s immigration raid on Agriprocessors caused the company to declare bankruptcy. The bank “called” the loan when Agriprocessors could not continue to make its payments. The May 2008 raid included military helicopters and more than 600 federal agents, and was widely criticized for the extreme tactics utilized by prosecutors and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The raid destroyed the company and had disastrous lasting effects on the community of Postville and the kosher meat industry.