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Child Labor Charges For Iowa Meat Plant

The owner and managers of largest U.S. kosher meatpacking plant were charged Tuesday with more than 9,000 misdemeanors alleging that they hired minors and in some cases had children younger than 16 handle dangerous equipment such as circular saws, meat grinders and power shears.

They are the first criminal charges against operators of the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, where nearly 400 illegal immigrants working at the facility were arrested in May in one of the largest single-site immigration raids in U.S. history.

The complaint filed by the Iowa attorney general's office said the violations involved 32 illegal-immigrant children under age 18, including seven who were younger than 16. Aside from handling dangerous equipment, the complaint also says children were exposed to dangerous chemicals such as chlorine solutions and dry ice.

The attorney general's office said the violations occurred from Sept. 9, 2007, to May 12, 2008, when the plant was raided by federal immigration agents.

Charged are the company itself, Agriprocessors Inc., plant owner Abraham Aaron Rubashkin; former plant manager Sholom Rubashkin; human resources manager Elizabeth Billmeyer; and Laura Althouse and Karina Freund, management employees in the company's human resources division.

Each defendant faces 9,311 individual counts - one for each day a particular violation is alleged for each worker. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said at a news conference on Tuesday that he would not elaborate on what evidence led to the indictment.

"All of the named individual defendants possessed shared knowledge that Agriprocessors employed undocumented aliens. It was likewise shared knowledge among the defendants that many of those workers were minors," the affidavit said.

The charges are simple misdemeanors, each carrying a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a fine of $65 to $625.

Miller said the case is the largest of its type he'd handled in his 26 years as attorney general.

Chaim Abrams, a manager at the plant, said in a statement that Agriprocessors "vehemently denies" the allegations. He said the underage workers - not the company - are to blame.

"All of the minors at issue lied about their age in order to gain employment at the company," he said. He said all the minors had signed documents stating that they were over 18.

"In order to convict, the state is going to have to prove that the defendants willfully violated the child labor laws," Abrams said. " ... The state will not be able to carry this burden of proof. Agriprocessors acted in good faith on the child labor issue. We look forward to our day in court."

Sonia Parras Konrad, an attorney representing more than 20 of the children, said her clients were as young as 14 when they started working at the plant.

"We don't need to see any papers to see that someone is a child," she said. "This was not one mistake, two mistakes, three mistakes, but many, many mistakes."

Parras Konrad said minors in the plant were treated the same as adults and often worked in the same conditions.

"They were hungry all the time, it was freezing cold or burning hot," Parras Konrad said the children told her.

The attorney general's office said the company encouraged job applicants to submit forged identification documents that were known to contain false information about their resident status, age and identity. It said the company's records also show that employees were not paid for all overtime worked.
By HENRY C. JACKSON Associated Press Writer

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