Chabad-linked Rabbi Fined $0.5 Million in Toxic Waste Case

Rabbi Moshe Rubashkin of Crown Heights charged with storing chemical waste at textile mill owned by his family.

Rabbi Moshe Rubashkin, the head of the Chabad-dominated Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, has pleaded guilty to illegally storing chemical waste at a textile mill owned by his family.

In a plea bargain with prosecutors, Rubashkin and his son Sholom agreed to pay nearly half a million dollars to reimburse the local and federal agencies that were forced to clean up the mill site after the Rubashkin family denied ownership of the plant. (Click here for U.S. Department of Justice statement on their arrests)

The rabbi's son, Sholom Rubashkin, confessed last month to lying to federal agents when he falsely claimed his family had no interest in the mill at the time the offenses were committed. Moshe Rubashkin, 50, and his son Sholom Rubashkin, 28, face sentencing later in the year, and each face a maximum of $250,000 in fines and 5 years in jail.

The Montex Textiles mill in Allentown, Pennsylvania was purchased by the Rubashkin family in 1989, and was operated by them until its closure in 2001. In 2002, the family sold the mill to a corporation called "Skyline Industries." The mill suffered a series of fires in 2005, one of which was ruled to be caused by arson.

According to the indictment in the case, Skyline refused to clean up the waste that was subsequently found at the site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and local and federal agencies were forced to undertake the cleanup.

According to prosecutors, the waste posed a critical health hazard to the surrounding residents, with highly flammable material stored. The EPA found aluminium powder and hydrogen peroxide stored alongside corrosive acids.

The Justice Department statement on the case quotes Pat Meehan, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as saying that, "This kind of material, when improperly stored, is the equivalent of a lit fuse to the surrounding community."

Prosecutors alleged that the Rubashkin family had maintained an interest in the plant, following its sale to Skyline and during subsequent complex financial transactions relating to the site. Prosecutors had alleged that when questioned by the EPA, Sholom Rubashkin had knowingly made false statements regarding the interests that his family held in the mill.

Moshe Rubashkin has a police record going back to the 1980s. In 2002, he pleaded guilty to a count of bank fraud for passing bad checks and was fined over $200,000 and jailed for 15 months with a subsequent five-year probation period. In 1995, Rubashkin was found to have engaged in inequitable labor practices at another textile mill under his family's ownership in Brooklyn.

After leaving jail, he was elected to head the council in Crown Heights despite being on probation for fraud. The Crown Heights Jewish Community Council is elected by members of the local Chabad affiliating community based in the Brooklyn neighborhood where the movements headquarters are located. The community is thought to number around 15,000.

Rubashkins are seen as an "influential" family within the Chabad movement. Moshe Rubashkin's father, Rabbi Aaron Rubashkin, established the major kosher abattoir AgriProcessors in Postville, Iowa in 1987. The plant is the largest supplier of kosher meat in the United States. Rubashkin's brother-in-law is the prominent Republican fundraiser Rabbi Milton Balkany, reportedly nicknamed "The Brooklyn Bundler", due to his fundraising tactics.

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