SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- A federal special agent testified Wednesday that an informant who tried to infiltrate the Agriprocessors Inc. kosher meatpacking plant in eastern Iowa was twice rejected for employment there because of fake work papers.

Michael D. Fischels, an agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was called to the stand by lawyers for former plant vice president Sholom Rubashkin, who is on trial in Sioux Falls, S.D. on 91 financial fraud charges. Those charges include bank, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and ignoring an order to pay livestock providers in the time required by law.

Fischels testified that the informant was finally hired on the third try after presenting legitimate documents provided by federal investigators. The hiring came five months before a massive immigration raid at the plant in Postville.

Fischels was a lead investigator in the case that led to the May 2008 immigration raid.

Prosecutors noted on cross-examination that Elizabeth Billmeyer, the plant's human resources manager, had talked with investigators about illegal immigrants at the plant as early as October 2007. Investigators also relied on other workers, past and present, to document illegal hiring at the plant.

Prosecutors have mentioned the alleged immigration violations because they relate to accusations that Rubashkin lied to the plant's lender. Rubashkin is scheduled to stand trial on 72 immigration-related charges in December.

Defense attorneys suffered a setback Wednesday when the trial judge refused to allow two of their witnesses to testify.

Both witnesses were attorneys from Nyemaster Goode, a Des Moines law firm that represented Agriprocessors before and during the raid.

Rubashkin's lawyers said the two could show that the former plant manager was too busy fighting lawsuits against the plant, overseeing an expansion project and taking care of other business to have committed bank fraud.

The Nyemaster lawyers declined to answer many of the questions because of attorney-client privilege. Assistant U.S. attorney Matt Cole argued that their statements were irrelevant, prejudicial to their case and misleading to jurors.

U.S. District Judge Linda Reade agreed.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

Copyright 2009 The AP.

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