Agriprocessors manager sentenced to more than three years in federal prison

Amara takes responsibility for crime, wants to be able to support his family

Trish Mehaffey
Published: January 31 2014 | 1:52 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:57 am in

A former Agriprocessors manager, who initially faced more than 200 years in prison for charges stemming from the 2008 Postville immigration raid, will only spend about three years in prison.

Hosam Amara, 48, formerly of Postville, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented workers for profit last August as part of a plea agreement. The other 26 charges he initially faced were dismissed Friday in U.S. District Court, and he was sentenced to 41 months in prison.

Amara, who first came to America in 1994 and is a U.S. citizen, said during sentencing he takes responsibility for his crime and only wants to be able to support his family. He said this was a "wonderful country and a wonderful place to raise children."

"I want my children to go to college here and get an education," Amara said.

Amara will likely receive about 11 months credit for time served in custody in America and in Israel, which will be at the discretion of the Bureau of Prisons. He could end up serving about two years.

Amara fled the country to avoid prosecution after being indicted in the raid. According to court documents, Sholom Rubashkin, former Agriprocessors vice president convicted of 86 counts of bank, mail and wire fraud and money laundering in 2009, gave Amara $4,000 and told him "to forget about everything here." Amara was arrested by Israeli authorities March 31, 2011 and after appealing extradition he was extradited back to Iowa.

According to the plea agreement and the sentencing hearing, Amara admitted he knew the workers entered the country illegally, he facilitated harboring the illegal workers, received money for hiring 15 undocumented workers and encouraged and directed others to hire undocumented workers. This occurred for about five years leading up to the raid.

According to court documents, Agriprocessors was informed that permanent resident alien cards were not being issued by the government and would not be accepted for employment purposes. There was  shortage of workers and Amara complained to Sholom Rubashkin, who was convicted of bank, mail and wire fraud, about the lack of workers, so Rubashkin started placing undocumented workers on a separate payroll for Hunt Enterprises.

U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade sentenced Amara to the top of the sentencing guideline range, but she didn't buy the government's argument for more time based on sexual exploitation of undocumented workers because there was no evidence to back it up. She said there were rumors of sexual exploitation of undocumented workers when the raid happened but the "court can't rule on rumors.

Reade said there have been cases where this has happened because their illegal status makes them vulnerable and afraid to complain but there's no evidence in this case.

After the raid, Agriprocessors workers told reporters about sexual assaults at the plant and one attorney who represented illegal workers said workers were being sexually exploited but none of the managers or supervisors convicted ever faced sexual charges.

Reade said even if she believed the witness who testified Friday about seeing Amara having sex with an employee in the "chicken office" of the meatpacking plant and his comments about which women on the poultry "cut-up line" would "put out" out, it's "improper behavior" but it doesn't warrant an upward variance to increase prison time. There's no evidence that it wasn't consensual sex or sexual exploitation, she said.

Chad Root, 42, a convicted drug offender with a lengthy criminal history, who was a refrigerator foreman at Agriprocessors from 2004 to 2006, testified he saw a fight in the Agriprocessors' parking lot in 2004 that involved Amara and a shipping dock worker. Amara was on top of the man, beating him. Root said later he found out Amara got the man's wife pregnant.

Root said in the summer of 2005 he saw Amara receiving oral sex from a woman in the "chicken office." In 2006, he and Amara were in the plant checking coolers and Amara called an employee, a "bitch" because she wouldn't have sex and then he went on to point out 15 woman on the cut-up line who were "giving out."

Clemens Erdahl, Amara's attorney, asked Root why didn't another co-worker who was with Root when he witnessed these incidents back him up. He also pointed out that the chicken office was somewhat a public area because it was where the rabbis would go to check the knives every 20 minutes to ensure everything was kosher.

Root said he didn't know.

Reade did consider aggravating factors when sentencing Amara at the top of the guideline range, which included profiting from a vehicle scheme for undocumented workers and obstruction of justice when he fled the country.

Iowa Department of Transportation Investigator Christopher Leeman testified he found out numerous vehicles were being registered and titled in Des Moines County in 2005 but they were owned by Agriprocessors employees who lived in Postville. His investigation led him to 1600 Avenue Auto Sales in Cedar Rapids, where most to the vehicles were sold. The owner was friends with Amara.

During the investigation, Leeman learned Amara collected $100 to $500 in commission from those sales. The majority of the business out of Postville went through Amara and the buyers were paying more than market value. Amara also would make car loans to employees. A man who repaired those cars for Amara, claimed Amara loaned out $80,000 in car loans.

Leeman, a former reserve Postville police officer, showed a lengthy spreadsheet during the hearing of 63 vehicle purchases, which was just a sampling,  said he recognized some of the names of the buyers but they had Burlington addresses, instead of Postville, where he knew they lived. He found out Al Garcia would pick up the vehicle documents mailed to several different Burlington addresses for the Postville residents. Garcia was convicted in this scheme.

Leeman also discovered the Social Security numbers on the documents didn't match the buyers.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Pete Deegan said Amara was taking advantage of the vehicle buyers because they were illegal residents. He knew they couldn't get bank loans or may not be able to present a driver's license.

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