Workers detail jobs at Agriprocessors plant
WATERLOO --- Among the mountains of bogus immigration records and job applications with fake names and birthdays in the case against Sholom Rubashkin, the two documents prosecutors keep coming back to are yearbooks.
Testimony in the state's child labor case against the former Agriprocessors' executive continued this Tuesday with a parade of former workers taking the stand.
And each time, prosecutors for the Iowa Attorney General's Office pulled out Postville High School yearbooks.
One is titled "2007: Cruisin Through" and the other is marked "2007-2008: Life isn't always black and white."
Prosecutors flipped through the tomes to find the thumb sized black-and-white photos of the witness sandwiched between other shots of smiling students.
On the stand, teenagers told the jury how they quit school to take jobs at the meatpacking plant.
"I owed money in Guatemala ... the expense incurred to come over here," Marcos Guerra Garcia, who left after reaching the ninth grade, testified through an interpreter.
The stories were similar. Sometimes they used fake names on their applications, sometimes they used their own. But always they submitted forged resident alien cards they purchased in town. Always they gave fake dates of birth, pretending to be older than they were.
Johel Rucal, now 17, said his sister dropped out first to help pay the debt his mother owed to smugglers who brought the family over the border. He said he quit in the eighth grade and paid $150 to get an ID that said he was 21. He was really 14.
He said his mom didn't want him to work there, but it was his decision.
Rucal talked about his job weighing boxes, cutting up turkeys and mixing chemicals in a barrel.
In other testimony, Luther "Don" Peddy, a public service executive with Iowa OSHA, told jurors about dry ice, anhydrous ammonia and other chemicals used in Agriprocessors.
Dry ice is about 110 degrees below zero and can freeze flesh instantly, Peddy said. Anhydrous ammonia is used in the cooling system, although under cross-examination, he explained it says inside of pipes unless there is an accidental leak.
Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday with more former child workers taking the stand. The trial is scheduled to last three weeks.
WATERLOO --- A former Agriprocessors supervisor said he told managers and executive Sholom Rubashkin that there were minors working at the company Postville meatpacking plant.
Matthew Derrick, 41, who worked for years in other slaughterhouses before coming to Agriprocessors in August 2006, was the state's first witness as Rubashkin's child labor trial resumed this morning (Tuesday).
"I had more children working on the cut up floor than I had adults," Derrick told jurors.
Rubashkin is charged with 83 counts of child labor violations in state court. Prosecutors alleged teens worked with dangerous chemicals and power-driven equipment between 2007 and a May 2008 immigration raid.
Derrick talked about meeting a 12-year-old boy on the Agriprocessors floor. He said it broke his heart. He wanted to take the child into his home and help him get citizenship and go to college.
"He was very bright," Derrick said.
Derrick testified that he told plant managers Gary Norris and Brent Beebe about the minors and was told to mind his own business.
Derrick said he also brought up the matter with Rubashkin once during a meeting after he approached the executive about a boot that had been placed on his vehicle in the company parking lot.
After talking about the vehicle, according to Derrick's account, Derrick told Rubashkin that everyone in his area was exhausted from working long hours and that there were children in the plant.
Derrick said he told Rubashkin some of the employees were "too young to be doing the job."
"He didn't seem to want to solve the problem," Derrick said. He said the conversation occurred in Rubashkin's office, and no one else was involved.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Mark Weinhardt, Derrick said he didn't tell U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors at the plant about the minors. Nor did he tell any government investigators about it until months after the May 2008 immigration raid.
He also said he didn't disclose his conversation with Rubashkin during initial interviews with investigators.
Defense attorney Montgomery Brown asked the court to declare a mistrial after Derrick mentioned that he and his family had been the subject of threats. He also asked for a mistrial because Derrick talked about an email that was allegedly distributed to him, Beebe and Rubashkin.
The e-mail, which the defense said had never been verified, allegedly came from the human resources department and asked Derrick to take workers to a Postville restaurant to get fake work documents.
Judge Nathan Callahan declined to declare a mistrial and asked jurors to disregard Derrick's statements about the threats.
Other witnesses this morning included:
Alvero David Ajin Garcia, who had worked at the plant before he turned 18,
Luther "Don" Peddy, an official with Iowa OSHA, who talked about the dangers of chemicals at the plant.
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