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Worker: Slaughterhouse Boss Sought Fake Invoices

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 6:05am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A defense attorney for a former top manager at an Iowa kosher slaughterhouse tried to show Thursday that accounting practices at the plant were sloppy, records were faulty and the plant operated on a slim margin.

F. Montgomery Brown, a defense attorney for former Agriprocessors, Inc., manager Sholom Rubashkin, repeatedly questioned former customer service worker Darlis Hendry about her assertion that she created fake invoices and shipping labels at Rubashkin's direction to create the illusion of sales that never happened.

Hendry conceded shipping labels were sometimes wrong and the shipping department was a consistent headache for Agriprocessors managers.

"I'm sure things went out all the time that never got billed for," Hendry said.

The Agriprocessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, was raided in May 2008, and 389 illegal immigrants were arrested. Rubashkin was indicted months later and faces 91 charges of financial fraud. A second trial on immigration charges is set to begin after the financial trial.

Prosecutors called on one of Rubashkin's boyhood friends, a Brooklyn, N.Y. clothing store owner who initially refused to testify but was granted immunity and threatened with contempt of court if he didn't cooperate. Eleazer Meyer looked at an invoice of more than $44,000 from Agriprocessors to his clothing store, The Right Place, and said he didn't recognize it.

He testified he and Rubashkin periodically lent each other money but did not say whether those transactions ever involved invoices.

"There were loans from me to him, him to me," Meyer said. "Tens of thousands of dollars ... loans for five, six, seven years."

Hendry's earlier testimony included a thorough review of the purchase process at the plant, but Brown nudged her into talking about Rubashkin's personality — "He's a good man," she said — and his willingness to help employees with health problems pay bills.

The fake invoices are key to the government's case against Rubashkin, who they say showed the documents to a bank so he could continue borrowing against a revolving $35 million loan.

Assistant U.S. Attorney C.J. Williams questioned Hendry on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning about the plant's purchase and shipping system. Williams focused on the allegedly faked shipping labels, which Hendry said Rubashkin told her to create.

Hendry also testified the plant's computer system crashed repeatedly, causing sales to be written by hand and never entered into the system. Brown said if all the allegedly fake invoices were indeed mistaken, they would add up to $35.8 million.

"All those invoices are flat-out false and phony, and no one ever got any product?" Brown asked.

"I can't say for sure," Hendry said. "I can't 100 percent say these are all fake invoices."

Hendry previously said Rubashkin asked her to file false invoices separately from authentic invoices. She said he later collected them so they wouldn't be found by prosecutors after he was charged with immigration violations and financial fraud in September 2008.

Hendry's co-workers in customer service testified Hendry was the point person for "fake invoices," which sometimes were confused with real ones. When customers called, Hendry "told customer service representatives to tell customers it was a mistake on our end," former Agriprocessors sales representative Verla O'Shaughnessy said.

Brown showed the jury e-mails between Rubashkin's brothers, Heshy and Yossi, discussing daily plant operations. Cook said in opening arguments that Rubashkin was not responsible for day-to-day operations at the plant, despite the government's assertion that he was effectively the plant's chief executive officer.

When asked, former customer service representative Nicole Coonfare testified she believed Rubashkin was "CEO or owner, he ran the business."

Cook responded that Rubashkin did not own stock in the company and held the official title of vice president.

The trial is expected to last between four and six weeks. It was moved from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Sioux Falls, S.D., after a federal judge ruled negative pretrial publicity caused potential jurors to develop a bias against Rubashkin and Agriprocessors.

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