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Attorneys lay out cases in Iowa child labor trial

MICHAEL J. CRUMB|Associated Press Writer

Attorneys in a child labor case on Monday disputed how much former plant manager knew about minors working at a kosher slaughterhouse, with a defense lawyer arguing prosecutors needed to prove more than bad management to get a conviction.

Sholom Rubashkin faces 83 child labor violation charges stemming from a May 2008 raid at the plant in which 389 illegal immigrants, including 31 children, were detained. The trial comes as Rubashkin awaits sentencing in a separate federal financial fraud case that followed the raid at the former Agriprocessors slaughterhouse in Postville.

In opening statements, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan flashed pictures of the children on a screen in a Black Hawk County courtroom. He told jurors how old the children were and about the long hours they worked with dangerous equipment and hazardous chemicals.

"The testimony will show they worked with chemicals and that they worked long hours, that they worked nights, that they worked repetitively with electric shears and worked around power machinery that caused them to have to reach in after product," Roan told the five-woman, three-man jury.

Roan said evidence will show all the children were working with false documents.

"Everyone remained willfully blind to the age and legal status of the applicants," she said. "That's what the evidence will show."

Rubashkin's attorney, F. Montgomery Brown, told jurors it was impossible for Rubashkin to know minors worked at the plant. He called the plant's hiring process flawed and dysfunctional but said Rubashkin didn't know minors worked there.

He said the prosecution will have to show that Rubashkin wanted minors working at the plant.

"Negligence, bad management, that's not going to cut it," Brown said. "Not one witness will tell you Sholom Rubashkin wanted them there."

He said evidence will show that Rubashkin told a human resources official not to hire minors.

Brown also told jurors that the state had names of minors working at the plant but failed to share them with Rubashkin and that documents provided to Rubashkin by other company officials indicated the issue was being dealt with.

Brown said state inspectors visited the plant a month before the raid but didn't indicate they found minors working there.

He also said letters from Agriprocessors' attorneys to federal immigration officials indicated the company knew the 2008 raid was coming and offered their full cooperation.

"If (Rubashkin) knew there were minors in the plant, would not a reasonable person have told somebody to get them out of there before ICE got there?"