PR firm's meat plant messages misleading

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2008 - 7:33 PM

A Mendota Heights rabbi is considering legal action over bogus comments after an Iowa immigration raid.

After federal agents conducted the nation's largest immigration raid against kosher slaughterhouse Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville, Iowa, the company hired a prominent New York public relations company.

Now that New York company admits it posted bogus comments, supposedly by a Minnesota rabbi who is a leading critic of Agriprocessors, on blogs and newspaper websites.

The admission has made news in national Jewish publications, and brought ridicule on the gossip website Gawker.com. Meanwhile, the target of the fake messages, Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, is considering legal action against the PR company and Agriprocessors.

Allen will lead a group of Jewish people from Minnesota to Postville next week to show support for those affected by the raid, and to send a message to Agriprocessors. He has led a national program to certify kosher plants on whether they treat workers humanely.

In May, scores of federal agents stormed Agriprocessors, which produces up to 70 percent of all the kosher meat in America. The agents seized almost 400 of the plant's 900 workers, charging about 300 of them with identity theft and using stolen Social Security cards.

Shortly thereafter, Agriprocessors hired the firm 5W, whose clients include rappers Lil' Kim and Snoop Dogg, as well as the American Jewish Congress.

Bogus posts under Allen's name soon were put on a popular Jewish news site, www.failedmessiah.com, published locally by Shmarya Rosenberg, as well as others.

"What they are trying to do is undermine me and our community," Allen said about the fake posts. "They are essentially making it look like I'm mocking other groups of Jews."

Rosenberg traced the addresses on the inflammatory comments supposedly made by Allen and found that they came from 5Ws e-mail address.

"I knew for sure it was something coming out of 5W or another PR firm," Rosenberg said.

The company's CEO, Ronn Torossian, acknowledged in a statement that an employee used Allen's name to submit fake comments.

"A senior staff member failed to be transparent in dealing with client matters," said the statement. "He has taken full responsibility. We have instituted internal measures to ensure this cannot happen again."

Jon Austin, a Twin Cities public relations executive who specializes in crisis communications, said such tactics are becoming more common.

"The norms of behavior on the Internet continue to evolve and here's a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when you decide to pose as someone else," he said.

Jon Tevlin • 612-673-1702

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