CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – After fleeing to Israel following an immigration raid in 2008, a former manager at a kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa finally appeared in a U.S. courtroom Friday to face charges that he conspired to exploit immigrant workers for profit.
His hands and feet shackled, Hosam Amara walked slowly into the federal courtroom in Cedar Rapids. Bald, short and stocky, the 48-year-old former poultry production manager at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville wore an orange jailhouse jumpsuit and a stone-faced demeanor.
Amara pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with conspiring to harbor workers who were in the country illegally and conspiring to provide false immigration papers at what was the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse. He faces 25 counts related to harboring and two counts related to document fraud.
Amara was ordered jailed pending a trial scheduled for July 1 after assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan said the government considered him a flight risk.
The brief arraignment was a routine hearing, but was a long time in the making.
Prosecutors say Amara fled to Israel, where he has citizenship, with his family shortly after federal agents descended on Agriprocessors in May 2008, arresting 389 workers in what was the largest immigration raid at the time. He was indicted six months later and became a fugitive from justice when he could not be found and did not turn himself in.
Israeli authorities acting on a U.S. extradition request arrested Omara on March 31, 2011. He challenged his extradition to the U.S. but was flown back to Iowa on Thursday after Israel's Supreme Court rejected his final appeal in March, Deegan said.
The appearance comes as a coalition of affected immigrants, church leaders, attorneys and other advocates planned to gather outside the same courthouse next week to mark the five-year anniversary of the raid, which was widely condemned as inhumane and a travesty of justice.
The arrested immigrants were bused to the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo for hearings in makeshift courtrooms. Most of them pleaded guilty to identity theft charges, spent five months in prison and were then deported. The raid devastated Postville, a city of about 2,000 people in northeast Iowa, and tore apart dozens, if not hundreds, of families.
Prosecutors say Amara managed the second shift on the poultry side of the plant, exercising "substantial control" over production and working as a lieutenant of Agriprocessors vice president Sholom Rubashkin, whose family owned the company.
Prosecutors say Amara knowingly employed immigrants who were not in the country legally but helped keep them off the books by putting them on the payroll of a separate company. They say he allowed employees to obtain and use Social Security and green cards that he knew were false.
In addition to Amara, the indictment charged Rubashkin and former plant managers Brent Beebe and Zeev Levi with taking part in the conspiracy.
Prosecutors say that Levi has also apparently fled to Israel and remains a fugitive. Beebe reached a plea agreement in 2010 in which he pleaded guilty to a document fraud charge and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.
Rubashkin was convicted in 2009 on separate financial fraud charges and sentenced to 27 years in prison. After his conviction in that case, prosecutors dropped the immigration charges against him rather than go through with a second trial.
Amara's court-appointed attorney, Steven Drahozal, did not challenge his client's detention, but said that he might at a later date. Drahozal declined comment after the hearing.