Donald Trump uses presidential power to commute prison sentence for first time

Donald Trump has exercised his power to commute a prison sentence for the first time in his presidency, freeing a millionaire businessman convicted of fraud.

Sholom Rubashkin was given a 27-year prison sentence for money laundering and was found to have employed illegal immigrants at his kosher meat plant in Iowa. 

The businessman was thought to be one of the largest employers of undocumented migrants after a government raid found almost 400 people, including children, working there in 2008.

Rubashkin, who ran the headquarters of the family business, the country’s largest kosher meat-processing company, had been charged with hiring illegal immigrants but these were dropped when he was convicted of bank fraud.

The decision to intervene on behalf of Mr Rubashkin came at the urging of numerous members of Congress and law enforcement officials, who argued the sentence was far too harsh for a first-time, nonviolent offender.

President Donald Trump has used the clemency power for the first time in his presidencyCredit:

The action was "encouraged by bipartisan leaders from across the political spectrum," the White House said.

The 57-year-old father of 10 has served more than eight years of his sentence. 

But the White House stressed that Rubashkin has not been granted a presidential pardon, meaning he will have to pay any restitution and complete a term of supervised release.

President Trump has used his ability to issue pardons just once so far – when he removed former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio’s conviction relating to targeted immigration patrols.

Rubashkin was convicted in 2009 for submitting fake invoices to a bank that made Agriprocessors’ finances appear healthier than they were so that it could borrow more. 

Donald Trump is joined by Joe Arpaio, the then sheriff of metro Phoenix, during a news conference in Marshalltown, IowaCredit:
 Mary Altaffer/AP

His prosecution came after federal authorities raided the plant and arrested 389 illegal immigrants in 2008.

The White House said the president’s reviewed Rubashkin’s sentence after concerns were raised by a bipartisan group, including multiple former attorneys general, as well as prosecutors, judges, and legal scholars.

"Mr. Rubashkin is a devoted husband and father, a deeply religious man who simply doesn’t deserve a sentence of this length, or anything remotely close to it," they wrote in a letter that urged Mr Trump to use his power to commute the sentence. 

Rubashkin’s lawyer Guy Cook has praised Mr Trump’s decision, saying the businessman "has finally received justice."

"The sentence previously imposed was unfair, unjust and essential a life sentence," he said.

"President Trump has done what is right and just. The unrelenting efforts on Rubashkin’s behalf have finally paid off."

But the decision was not universally welcomed. Robert Teig, who served as a spokesman for the US attorney’s office in Iowa, said that Rubashkin’s sentence “was what he earned because of his conduct”.

“Really, this is 180 degrees contrary to a tough position on illegal immigration,” said Mr. Teig, who said Rubashkin had probably been Iowa’s largest employer of undocumented immigrants.

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