Report Detailing Investigation of Turkey Plant to Be Sent to Prosecutors

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Des Moines, IA—An investigation into an Iowa turkey-processing plant, which faces charges of exploiting mentally retarded workers, has been completed and the final report is being sent to the Muscatine County attorney’s office.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation has finished its investigation, which began when federal, state and county authorities raided a bunkhouse run by Henry’s Turkey Service, in which dozens of disabled workers had been living without supervision and in violation of numerous labor laws.

The bunkhouse, which is located in the eastern Iowa town of Atalissa, is the last remaining facility that houses workers for Henry’s, a company that has faced numerous violations of state and local labor laws in the past several decades. The men, who were allegedly living in sub-par conditions that included boarded up windows, an unheated environment and cockroach infestations, were paid as little as 40 cents per hour for their work in the West Liberty Foods plant, which is owned by Henry’s.

Henry’s was cited in over 9,000 violations of wage-and-hour laws, as well as violations of federal laws. The turkey company was accused of running an unlicensed care facility or group home for the mentally retarded men, some of whom are in their 60s. Iowa Workforce Development is pursuing the charges against Henry’s in a civil suit, although there may yet be payroll violations that will be pursued under criminal codes.

Some of the men who worked in the Atalissa facility are now working for, and living in a bunkhouse operated by, the Johnson & Johnson Egg Farm in Goldthwaite, Texas. The farm, which is owned by the brother of Henry’s Turkey Service founder, has been accused by the state of Texas of exploiting and abusing the men who worked for him, most of which were mentally retarded or too old to continue working at the West Liberty Foods plant.

The men were allegedly ordered to dig trenches, carry heavy bags of chicken feed, and perform manual labor. Although a settlement was reached in which Johnson & Johnson agreed to let mental health inspectors make unannounced visits in order to monitor the care and well-being of the men, those inspections never took place – allegedly because the mental health experts were not informed of the arrangement.

A spokesperson from Muscatine County has said that the county has not yet taken action because it wants to coordinated efforts with federal authorities in determining what action to take against Henry’s Turkey Service. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, the United States Department of Labor and other agencies have been investigating the situation.

All of the men who were living in the 106-year-old bunkhouse have been relocated to other care facilities in Texas and Iowa.

 

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