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Iowa meatpacker fined nearly $10M over violations

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

IOWA CITY, Iowa —  A kosher meatpacking plant that was the site of one of the nation's largest immigration raids was fined nearly $10 million by the state Wednesday over accusations that it violated state labor laws.

Iowa Labor Commissioner Dave Neil assessed the civil penalties against Agriprocessors in Postville for what he called repeated violations of Iowa's wage laws from January 2006 to June 2008.

"Once again, Agriprocessors has demonstrated a complete disregard for Iowa law," Neil said in a statement. "This continued course of violations is a black mark on Iowa's business community."

Iowa Workforce Development, the state's labor agency, spent months before and after the May 12 raid examining internal company documents, said agency spokeswoman Kerry Koonce. Documents included time sheets, payroll and wage stubs, she said.

The civil penalties totaled $9.99 million, including $339,700 for the illegal deduction of "sales tax/miscellaneous" costs nearly 3,400 times; $9.6 million for illegally deducting money from 2,001 employees for protective clothing more than 96,000 times; and for failing to pay 42 employees their last paychecks following the raid by immigration agents.

An Agriprocessors spokesman didn't immediately respond to a call seeking comment. The company has 30 days to contest the proposed fines.

The fines are the latest trouble for Agriprocessors since the raid, in which 389 people were arrested.

In September, the plant owner and managers were charged with 9,311 misdemeanors alleging they illegally hired minors and let children younger than 16 handle dangerous equipment. The complaint filed by the Iowa attorney general's office said the violations involved 32 illegal-immigrant children younger than 18, including seven who were not yet 16.

Two human resources employees _ Laura Althouse and Karina Freund _ also were accused of federal violations of helping illegal workers use false documents to work at the plant.

Althouse pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in Cedar Rapids to conspiracy to harbor undocumented immigrants for financial gain and aggravated identity theft. Freund's trial is scheduled for Nov. 17.

Althouse, 38, of Postville, originally faced the conspiracy charge, as well as charges of aiding and abetting document fraud and aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft. Her lawyer didn't respond to calls seeking comment.

The U.S. attorney's office said Althouse remains free on bail, pending sentencing. She faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge, and up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the aggravated identity theft charge.

(This version CORRECTS the story to say that Freund's trial is set for Nov. 17, not Althouse's trial.)

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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