Watch CBSN Live

Is Life Sentence Kosher for Sholom Rubashkin, Jewish Slaughterhouse Boss Guilty of $26 Million Fraud?

Sholom Rubashkin (Personal Photo) Personal Photo

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS/AP) A former  boss at an Iowa kosher slaughterhouse is facing a possible life sentence for  financial fraud totaling $26 million dollars; however, many Jewish groups and six U.S. attorneys general have come forward to complain that the potential punishment for Sholom Rubashkin exceeds the crime.

The sentencing hearing began Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids for Rubashkin, former executive at a Postville, Iowa meatpacking plant.

A website supporting him states, "Sholom Rubashkin has been treated harshly and vindictively in a prosecution that is likely to go down in history as a shameful permanent stain on American Justice."

Rubashkin was jailed in 2009, when he was convicted on 86 counts of financial fraud for creating fake invoices that led his lender to believe the plant was pulling in more money than it actually was. Prosecutors say the scheme cost the bank $26 million.

Sholom Rubashkin and his family (Personal Photo) Personal Photo

Many who do not question Rubashkin's guilt are challenging the prospect of a life sentence. Twenty-three former prosecutors, including Janet Reno and Edwin Meese III, have signed a letter asking the judge to consider a lighter term for the first-time, non-violent offender.

Jonathan Edelstein, a lawyer and expert on U.S.-Israeli extradition law, said ever since the Enron case, when corporate leaders were found to have lied to investors, the government has come down hard on white-collar crime. Just weeks ago, he noted, Minnesota businessman Tom Petters was sentenced to 50 years for a Ponzi scheme that cost investors $3.7 billion.

But Edelstein still questions such a harsh sentence for Rubashkin.

"Not long ago it would have been considered absurd for a nonviolent criminal to serve a life sentence," he said.

View CBS News In