Among the holidays gifts Americans unwrapped on Christmas, a couple unique ones are probably as appreciated as any new cellphone, household appliance or piece of jewelry given to family or friends.
The first is a get out of jail gift card handed to a former meat company executive whose sentence was commuted by President Trump.
CNN reported that Sholom Rubashkin, who had served eight years of a 27-year sentence for financial crimes uncovered after a 2008 immigration raid on Agriprocessors’ Iowa processing plant, had his sentence commuted by Trump.
As USA Today reported, Agriprocessors, which was producing nearly two-thirds of the country’s kosher meat supply, owed as much as a $100 million to its creditors at the time of the raid.
According to a statement released on Dec. 20, the White House noted that a bipartisan group of more than 100 former prosecutors, Department of Justice officials and current Members of Congress had expressed concerns about the severity of the sentence. Interestingly, the White House named the House Minority Leader, one of the GOP’s favorite political targets, in the first sentence of the statement:
“Today, President Donald J. Trump commuted the prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, an action encouraged by bipartisan leaders from across the political spectrum, from Nancy Pelosi to Orrin Hatch.
Mr. Rubashkin is a 57-year-old father of 10 children. He previously ran the Iowa headquarters of a family business that was the country’s largest kosher meat-processing company. In 2009, he was convicted of bank fraud and sentenced thereafter to 27 years in prison. Mr. Rubashkin has now served more than 8 years of that sentence, which many have called excessive in light of its disparity with sentences imposed for similar crimes.”
It's that last sentence that causes concern.
Without a doubt, Rubashkin’s sentence is harsh when compared with those meted out to the array of top executives from the banking, investment and financial services industries involved in the meltdown of the economy that triggered the Great Recession of 2007 — because none of them served a single day behind bars.
You wreck the global economy, and you get a slap on the wrist, plus a stern warning not to repeat that kind of criminal behavior ever again.
You illegally hire hundreds of undocumented immigrants, then commit banking fraud — Rubashkin was found guilty in 2009 of submitting fake paperwork so that Agriprocessors could float multi-million dollar loans — and you face the rest of your life behind bars.
Agreed, that’s not exactly the even-handed application of justice, although I must admit it’s a little disconcerting how quickly prominent people line up to wring their hands over some wealthy executive, who cheated and/or stole millions from banks and/or the taxpayers, suffering the tragedy of confinement in a minimum-security prison.
For people serving similar sentences for mere possession of recreational drugs?
Bad Boy Bundys
The other holiday gift came in the form of a mistrial in the criminal conspiracy case against Nevada rancher and Cliven Bundy and three other defendants.
As The Washington Post reported, the case involved the 2014 armed standoff with Bureau of Land Management agents by Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy and self-described Montana militiaman Ryan Payne near the family’s Nevada cattle ranch.
In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro determined that the prosecution suppressed exculpatory evidence from FBI surveillance cameras recording the Bundy’s home and the presence of BLM snipers around the property in the days leading up to the standoff.
Additionally, the newspaper story noted that the judge ruled the prosecution did not provide defense lawyers with FBI logs, maps, reports and threat assessments that indicated that the Bundy family was not dangerous.
Judge Navarro stated that the declaration of a mistrial doesn’t mean the defendants were found not guilty. “That is not the court’s decision,” she said. “It is for a jury to decide.”
Attorneys for both sides have until Dec. 29 to file legal briefs on whether the judge should allow a new trial.
Although they may have escaped any criminal convictions so far, the members of the Bundy Clan have brought unwanted and highly negative publicity on the profession of ranching, handed mountains of ammunition to activists who oppose the system of federal grazing permits and violated the public trust by seizing a national wildlife refuge in an occupation that cost state, county and federal agencies millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.
Not to mention that the family is basically a bunch of anti-government zealots who trade in extremist conspiracy theories. On more than one occasion Ryan Bundy has told reporters that his family’s decision to “stand up against federal tyranny” is motivated by their belief in the so-called “white horse prophecy,” in which Mormon true believers will be the final defenders of an assault on the U.S. Constitution.
Officials of the Church of Latter Day Saints have distanced themselves from the actions of the Bundy family and stated that the white horse prophecy is not accepted church doctrine.
Like other radicals who spew hatred of We the People in the form of whatever federal agency with which they have a beef, the Bundys need to pay their grazing fees, keep their religious beliefs out of arguments over government policies, and give the rest of us a holiday present that would be most appreciated:
Shut up and go away.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.