DES MOINES - The owner and managers of the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant were charged Tuesday with more than 9,000 misdemeanors alleging 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.
Two of the managers also appeared in federal court Tuesday to face separate charges related to the employment of illegal immigrants at the plant.
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.