Iowa Agency: Housing for Disabled Men was Criminal

By: Nigel Duara
By: Nigel Duara

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- An Iowa state agency said Tuesday it intends to file criminal charges against the party responsible for lodging 21 mentally disabled factory workers in an unsafe, poorly heated building.

The state Department of Inspections and Appeals would file charges of operating a health care facility without a license, but it's unclear who can be charged, said agency spokesman Dave Werning.

"We're pursuing criminal charges," he said. "But the suspects have yet to be determined."

The state got a tip last week that the 21 men were working at West Liberty Foods, a meatpacking plant that hired laborers through a Texas-based company called Henry's Turkey Service. The men are believed to be from Texas.

State officials said the men were housed in a 106-year-old, boarded-up building with space heaters. Most of them apparently have worked at West Liberty for 20 years or longer.

Werning said Tuesday that "a box of documentation" seized during a raid at the building will be analyzed to determine whether the workers were financially exploited.

"We're looking to see what happened to their money, what happened to their taxes," he said.

Representatives of Henry's Turkey Service and West Liberty did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

Criminal charges would be based on a determination by the state that the men are dependent adults and need care. Charges of operating a health care facility without a license can be brought when three or more dependent adults are living in one residence that's not licensed.

The men were taken Tuesday to residential-care facilities in Waterloo operated by Exceptional Persons Inc., a nonprofit that works with mentally disabled people.

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