In Postville, Iowa, where the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant is located, at least one community leader suspects some longtime residents of the town, who, he said, have never been comfortable with the Lubavitch chassidic Jews who own the plant or the mostly Hispanic immigrants who work there, may have been behind the raid conducted at the plant by federal agents last month.
Jeff Abbas, who runs the community's radio station, KPVL, said immigrants are vital to the economic stability of Postville, and, he said, he is worried because so many are fleeing in the aftermath of the raid.
Other members of the Postville community said local officials were doing everything to help the kosher meatpacking plant because it is the area's largest employer and, almost single-handedly, supports the local economy.
Agriprocessors, often referred to as simply Agri, was founded 20 years ago by Brooklyn-born Chabad-Lubavitch chassid Aaron Rubashkin. Since then, Agri has become the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the country and has attracted hundreds of Orthodox Jews, most of them Chabad-niks, to this rural pocket of northeast Iowa, which has a population of about 2,300.
The plant sells its products under the labels of Aaron's Best, Aaron's Choice, Rubashkin's, European Glatt, Supreme Kosher, David's, and Shor Harbor.
According to Stephen Bloom's 2000 book Postville, there have been ongoing tensions between the Orthodox-Jewish enclave and the greater mid-western community, a split which Mr. Abbas implied might be at the root of the government's actions.
Last month, 389 workers at the plant""40 percent of its 968 employees""were arrested and charged with being in the US illegally. Most of them had false documents and Social Security numbers, which, for a resident alien, is a crime punishable by a 10-year prison term, three years of supervised probation, a fine of up to $250,000, and a $100 court fee.
In a plea-bargain arrangement, the government dropped the more serious identify-theft charges against many of the workers, and most of the illegal immigrants who were arrested pleaded guilty. Most were then sentenced to five months in prison, after which, they are expected to be deported to their home countries, mostly Mexico and Guatemala, in lieu of serving probation.
Some of the illegal aliens were released immediately on humanitarian grounds in order to care for their children. Others were simply given probation after agreeing to return to their home countries immediately.
It was the largest single-site federal immigration raid in US history.
Although none of Agri's managers, administrators, or owners have been indicted or even charged, the rumor mill, egged on by left-wing Jewish and so-called animal-rights groups, has worked overtime. There have been unofficial allegations of fraud and worker, drug, and sex abuse.
In a 60-page application for a search warrant, federal agents showed that their six-month probe of the plant involved 12 federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, and the Departments of Labor and Agriculture.
Most of their information seems to have come from affidavits supplied by former Agri employees who were detained by police on a host of unrelated charges.