Associated Press

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) -- A former kosher slaughterhouse manager who was convicted of financial fraud not only cheated a bank out of $26 million, prosecutors claim, he also knowingly employed illegal immigrants.

Sholom Rubashkin was never convicted of immigration violations and his attorneys dispute the allegations, but they still could be an issue at his sentencing hearing Wednesday on 86 financial fraud charges.

Prosecutors are seeking a life term for Rubashkin, who was found guilty in November 2009 of creating faking invoices to show a lender that the Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant in Postville, in northeastern Iowa, had more money flowing in than it did. The charges followed a May 2008 immigration raid at the plant, where 389 workers were arrested.

In court documents defending their sentencing recommendation, prosecutors said the government had warned Rubashkin he was employing hundreds of illegal immigrants three years before the raid but that he did everything he could "to maintain his illegal underpaid workforce."

Defense attorneys argued that Rubashkin didn't have the authority to hire or fire the workers.

Former assistant U.S. Attorney William Mateja said U.S. District Court Judge Linda R. Reade could factor the immigration charges into her sentencing decision under a legal phrase called "other relevant conduct." Instead of trying and proving the charges against Rubashkin, Mateja said prosecutors need to meet a lower bar: a preponderance of evidence.

Some have expressed shock at the proposed life term, and six former U.S. attorneys general have complained that prosecutors are seeking an excessive sentence. But others said that in the last few years, the government has come down increasingly hard on white collar criminals.

"White collar crime is being prosecuted more aggressively, and the sentences have been going up and up and up," Mateja said. Other relevant conduct "can encompass all sorts of things, from obstruction of justice, to whether you were an organizer or leader, to other crimes."

The proposed sentence led 23 former prosecutors to send a letter to Reade that argues for a shorter prison term. Among those signing the letter are former U.S. attorneys general Janet Reno and Edwin Meese III.

The letter says there's no justification for prosecutors to "call for a life sentence -- or anything close to it -- for Mr. Rubashkin." It notes that Rubashkin is a first-time, nonviolent offender whose personal history suggests "a sentence of a modest number of years could and would be more than sufficient."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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