Agri’s new CEO is optimistic, says company unfairly maligned

Agri’s new CEO is optimistic, says company unfairly maligned

NEW YORK — Agriprocessors, the embattled operator of a much-criticized kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, has appointed a Long Island tax attorney who formerly represented the company in a fraud lawsuit as its new chief executive officer.
With Bernard Feldman’s hire, the troubled company has dodged at least one bullet: suspension of its kosher certification by the Orthodox Union. The kosher agency had threatened earlier this month to suspend certification if new management wasn’t hired within two weeks.
The O.U. issued its ultimatum after Iowa’s attorney general filed a criminal complaint against the company’s owner, Aaron Rubashkin, his son and three other officials alleging more than 9,000 counts of child labor law violations.
The O.U. has welcomed Feldman’s appointment.
“I believe that Agriprocessors serves a vital function to the Orthodox community and others who are in need of acquiring glatt kosher food,” Feldman told JTA in an interview the day his appointment was announced. “I have had a good relationship with the family, the Rubashkins, for some period of time. And at their request I have agreed to come in and assist them.”
Feldman, 63, takes the helm as problems continue to mount for Agriprocessors, the country’s largest kosher meat producer until a federal immigration raid on May 12 led to the arrest of more than one-third of its workforce. Besides the child labor charges, the first criminal charges to be brought against Agriprocessors’ senior management, former and replacement workers have accused the company of everything from tolerating sexual harassment to shorting employees on pay.
Agriprocessors has steadfastly denied wrongdoing and said it is looking forward to its day in court. Feldman told JTA he believes the company has been unfairly maligned.
“To the best of my knowledge, there was no abuse of the kind that has been alleged,” Feldman said. “The question of underage employment in my mind is in serious doubt. And I firmly believe, based upon my present familiarity with the situation, that none of the ownership or the family has any direct or indirect culpability or responsibility to any of these allegations, which I ultimately believe will not be sustained in a court.”
Feldman has longstanding ties to the Rubashkin family, whom he defended in the Allou Distributors case, in which unexplained payments were made to Agriprocessors and its affiliates by a New York firm whose executives pleaded guilty to defrauding investors. Agriprocessors paid $1.4 million to settle the case.
Feldman’s expertise is in corporate reorganization, and he has never worked in the kosher meat industry. He will retain his New York residency while working for the company, though he said he intends to spend “the major part of the next several months” in Iowa.
Feldman said he would remain in the position as long as necessary to accomplish those objectives.
He also said he had not yet “formalized” the future role in the company of Sholom Rubashkin, Aaron’s son and the plant’s former top manager, though he said Sholom’s role would be “severely diminished.” Sholom Rubashkin’s ouster was announced within days of the immigration raid and his replacement was a condition of the O.U.’s continued certification.