"The Boys" from TX in Atalissa Iowa - DHS KNEW for

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"The Boys" from TX in Atalissa Iowa - DHS KNEW for

Postby Greegor » Mon Mar 02, 2009 9:24 am

http://cmsimg.desmoinesregister.com/app ... 364&Ref=AR

Gene Gessow, Iowa Department of Human Services director, pauses while testifying about the Atalissa case before the Iowa Legislature's Government Oversight Committee on Feb. 17.


http://www.gazetteonline.com/apps/pbcs. ... 19954/1006

HEMMINGSEN: DHS stifled Atalissa bunkhouse report in 1970s
By Jennifer Hemmingsen Gazette columnist
[email protected]

State officials have known for decades about questionable living and working arrangements at the Atalissa bunkhouse, but told social workers to turn a blind eye, according to a former social worker.

"We were stunned, we were angry, we were flabbergasted," Jan Soboroff told me Friday. But they didn't feel like they could do anything about it, she said. "There was no protection, and there is still no protection in this state, for whistle-blowers."

Soboroff said she worked on a team of Muscatine County social workers who investigated Henry's Turkey Service's Atalissa operation in the spring of 1974 when the Iowa Department of Social Services, now the Department of Human Services, received a complaint about an illegal migrant worker camp.

Soboroff interviewed the men's relatives — she could only find two — who told her they thought the men were better off working for the company than they had been before in Texas state institutions. Other investigators concluded bunkhouse living arrangements weren't too bad.

But they had serious concerns about how well the men were supervised and how their finances were arranged. They were concerned that Henry's Turkey was the payee for the men's Social Security and disability payments, she said. "We always thought it was illegal."

The team submitted a report highly critical of the work agreement, she said. A few days later, their boss got a call from the district supervisor. They were to stop the investigation and not talk about it with anyone. They didn't have jurisdiction in the case, Soboroff remembers being told. "We were basically told to keep our mouths shut," she said.

She couldn't provide a copy of the report, said it would have been illegal for her to keep one and that it likely was destroyed as part of normal document destruction.

She did give me an undated newspaper account of the district supervisor James Strickland's report to Muscatine County supervisors. It states he told them the investigation found nothing wrong, but questions remained about the financial and work arrangements. Strickland told supervisors his agency would keep an eye on Henry's Turkey Service. But as the years passed, county social workers continued to get calls about the labor brokers, and the district office continued to tell them to stay out of it, Soboroff said. She said that policy continued through several district administrators.

Soboroff worked in Muscatine County until 1992 and she continued to see the men from Atalissa — at the fair, the stock car races, the grocery store. "To all outside appearances, they were well clothed, seemed to be well fed, seemed to be healthy," she said. But still she wondered.

Atalissa City Council member Dennis Hepker told state legislators last week he called that same Davenport area office a few years ago to complain about a padlocked front door at the bunkhouse. Whoever answered the phone said they were understaffed and couldn't do anything without hard evidence, he said.

"While we cannot prove one way or another whether he called, we can say that no employee would respond that way in that situation," DHS spokesman Roger Munns told me Friday. As for Soboroff's recollection, Munns said he respected the information but was in no position to say whether decisions made at that time were right or wrong. Munns couldn't confirm Strickland's employment history by late Friday.

State Legislature's Government Oversight Committee Chairwoman Rep. Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City, said allegations of DHS failures will be a part of that committee's investigation when it resumes after a criminal investigation. She has also asked staffers to draft legislation that would build on recent changes and protect whistle-blowers.

Atalissa's state representative, Rep. Jeff Kauffman, R-Wilton, said it will take complex conversations about government regulation of private arrangements, appropriate living arrangements for people with mental disabilities and regulating out-of-state businesses to protect vulnerable adults from exploitative arrangements that might look OK on the surface.

"It makes me wonder, quite frankly, what else that appears normal is not," he said.

Article Comments

Posted By: Ann Onamouse Post Date: 02/22/09 06:51:00 AM
Title: Jan Soboroff

Nothing could have been done anonomousley, even? This is a sad state of affairs, and it really makes me wonder what the payoff was, and to who (!) that let this situation fester for over 20 years. The state needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent, although I'm sure nothing but a few public hand slaps, maybe a sacrafice or 2 will come of it. The **** packing industry apparently needs a babysitter. Greed, it's whats for dinner.

Posted By: dennis hill Post Date: 02/21/09 06:48:00 AM
Title: this was hid and nothing will be done

This abuse waas hid by the State of Iowa, even now the Gov has created a task force to fix this, and it was limited to the same people who head the agencies that did nothing in the first place..Just another cover up.
I had a concern and contacted DHS, I persisted and called the directors office, there I was allowed to speak to a Harry Rossender, Mr Rossender was verbally abusive and nasty in is conversation, I complained then to the Govs office last fall, and never recieved a response.
I also complained about the behavior to my Rep.Tyler Olson, who in fairness, DID NOTHING. He sits on this committee that is examining the bunk house, it seems to be grandstanding, he had no interest in my complaint last fall or a follow up in January 2009. In the end they will blame Texas, the families of the me, the turkey service, but little will be done to fix this problem, and another bunk house could be operating 20 miles down the road, and they would be ignoring that as well. The verdict might still be out on Tyler but to me at least he refused to even answer emails concerning a diabled young person.
Mr Munn, the pr hack of the agency is trying to in a way publiclly attack a person who complained, the person said he made a complaint and until you can PROVE otherwise you have to assume he did.


Complaint About Atalissa Bunkhouse Rejected
By Daren Sukhram Feb 12, 2009 at 2:12 PM CST

DES MOINES (AP) - The brother of one of the developmentally disabled workers who lived at a bunkhouse in Atalissa and worked at a meatpacking plant for about 44 cents an hour says a complaint made in 2007 was rejected by the state.

According to a copyright story in Thursday's The Des Moines Register, Paul Pettigrew of Oklahoma says that in 2007 he became concerned about the treatment his brother was receiving.

When he called a state social worker to complain, Pettigrew says he was told that the social worker was aware of the bunkhouse but couldn't act because the building wasn't a licenses care facility.

State officials say rejected complaints are destroyed after six months.

Last week, the state fire marshal closed down the 106-year-old
bunkhouse operated by Henry's Turkey Service.

 ... cd=2&gl=us

[ For some strange reason this story is no longer on chron.com ]

Complaint about Atalissa bunkhouse was rejected
© 2009 The Associated Press Feb. 12, 2009, 11:12PM

DES MOINES, Iowa — A family member of one of the mentally disabled workers who lived at a bunkhouse in Atalissa and worked at a meatpacking plant for about 44 cents an hour says a complaint made in 2007 was rejected by the state.

According to a copyright story in Thursday's The Des Moines Register, Paul Pettigrew of Oklahoma claims his brother George lived in the bunkhouse for about 30 years, and that in 2007 he became concerned about the treatment his brother was receiving.

Pettigrew said he called a state social worker to complain, and was told that the social worker was aware of the bunkhouse but couldn't act because the building wasn't a licensed care facility.

The Register reported that Iowa Department of Human Services officials said they couldn't verify Pettigrew's claim because rejected complaints are destroyed after six months.

Last week, the state fire marshal closed down the 106-year-old bunkhouse in eastern Iowa where dozens of mentally disabled men from Texas lived in order to work at a meat processing plant now called West Liberty Foods. Henry's Turkey Service is the company that recruited the men to live and work there since the 1970s.

The Register reported that payroll records it obtained indicate that 21 men who lived at the house in the past month were collecting about 44 cents per hour in wages for their work. Henry's Turkey Service apparently took most of their other income including, in some cases, Social Security and government disability payments.

The money retained by the company was used to pay for room, board and care of the bunkhouse, Robert Berry, the company's accountant, told the newspaper.

The company now faces legal troubles as a dozen local, state and federal agencies look into possible violations of wage-and-hour laws. Criminal charges are also possible from state health inspectors who allege the bunkhouse was being operated as an illegal care center.

This week, Department of Human Services Director Gene Gessow said it appeared that his agency was not aware of any issues at the bunkhouse until late last week.

"We are looking through our own records to determine whether or not — what we were aware of and when, or whether or not we had any hints," Gessow said. "Our initial determination is that the first time that we as a department became aware of this particular situation was when we received a call to our abuse-and-neglect hot line on Thursday evening."

The Register reported that in July 2001 and July 2005 the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals fielded complaints about the bunkhouse.

The department concluded that the residents were independent, and no action was taken.

Iowa Labor Commissioner Dave Neil said the bunkhouse was owned by the city of Atalissa and leased to Henry's Turkey Service. His department has subpoenaed the payroll records of West Liberty Foods, and is working to get records from Texas as well.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, weighed in on the situation during a conference call with reporters on Thursday. He said he was "shocked and upset" about what apparently went on in Atalissa.

"Some people had worked there as long as 30 years and all they've got to show for it is like 80 bucks. Many of them were getting paid $65 a month, which came down to 44 cents an hour," he said. "Doesn't this shock the conscience of everyone? I mean this is pretty close to slavery."

Harkin also admonished the mayor of Atalissa for saying that no one from the city had been inside the city-owned building, which reportedly had boarded-up windows and relied only on space heaters.

"I intend to really push to get to the bottom of how this happened," Harkin said. "How could it happen for such a long time and no one does anything about it?"

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/p ... 9902260364

February 26, 2009

Baudler says DHS officials weren't candid in testimony

[email protected]

© 2009, Des Moines Register and Tribune Company

An Iowa legislator says top officials from the Iowa Department of Human Services weren't truthful in their recent testimony before lawmakers regarding Henry's Turkey Service.

"They weren't truthful, and they sure as hell weren't forthcoming," said Rep. Clel Baudler, a Greenfield Republican.

Baudler's comments were aimed in part at Department of Human Services Director Gene Gessow. Roger Munns, spokesman for the department, said Wednesday that "Gene Gessow is a man utterly without guile. He responds forthrightly and promptly to every legislative request for information."

Gov. Chet Culver's spokesman, Phil Roeder, said that "Baudler is free to feel whatever he wants to feel," but the governor is focused on "getting to the bottom of how the bureaucracy could have failed these men for more than 30 years."

Gessow testified in front of the Iowa Legislature's Government Oversight Committee on Feb. 17. He fielded questions from Baudler about a file that his department had on Henry's Turkey Service, a company that for decades housed dozens of mentally retarded processing-plant workers in a century-old Atalissa bunkhouse.

At the hearing, Gessow described the file as containing old news articles and "references to news articles" about the Atalissa operation, and he offered to make copies of the file's contents and send them to the committee. Two days later, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation asked committee members to delay hearings on the matter while the division's investigation proceeded.

After The Des Moines Register requested a copy of the file, Gessow turned it over to the Division of Criminal Investigation. On Tuesday, a few days after getting the file back from criminal investigators, Gessow had the contents of the file posted on the department's Web site.

At the committee hearing, Gessow made no mention of departmental e-mails in the file that show his agency rejected a 1997 request from the state of Texas to investigate Henry's Turkey Service and its treatment of the Iowa workers. That decision appears to have been based in part on a finding that Texas, not Iowa, was legally responsible for the men's welfare. At the hearing, Gessow didn't mention the Texas request at all.

When Baudler asked Gessow whether his department had fielded any complaints about the bunkhouse from people in Atalissa, Gessow replied, "We've been checking our records and, at least back for the years that we have records, we don't have a record of any such complaint."

Later during that same hearing, Atalissa City Councilman Dennis Hepker testified that he complained to a Department of Human Services employee in 2005 or 2006 when he saw the front door of the bunkhouse padlocked from the outside. A department social worker responded that the agency was understaffed and that nothing that could be done, Hepker said.

Baudler contrasted Gessow's testimony with that of Atalissa city officials, who expressed some misgivings over their role in the matter.

"It was so refreshing to have somebody come to that committee and not lie to you," he said. "And obviously DHS was - what's the word I want? - dancing around the bush."

Baudler said Gessow's failure to disclose the Texas referral needed to be addressed by the committee.

"As soon as the criminal investigation is over, DHS is going to get a serious dressing-down," he said. "I think the main concern is just that DHS is not doing its job, whether it be this Atalissa thing or several other things. But especially the Atalissa thing."

Rep. Wayne Ford, a Des Moines Democrat, said any human services officials who participated in the 1997 decision and are still employed by the agency might be asked to explain their actions to the committee.

"Iowans are expecting us to find out what went wrong, who did wrong, and to be transparent about that," he said.

Gessow said earlier this week that he first became aware of the file and its contents on Feb. 11, when it was faxed to the Des Moines DHS office from the agency's Muscatine office. The file was faxed to the attention of Vern Armstrong, a DHS administrator who testified alongside Gessow at the committee hearings six days later.

shrek2 wrote:
The City of Atillissa was the slum-landlord. Dozens of investigations by half a dozen state and federal agencies investigated this company over the years -- not one ever found a serious problem nor attempted to shut down the company. As late as 1987, the old Texas Rehabilitation Commission who created this program and placed the men, gave T.H. Johnson "Employer of the Year", a plaque that stills hangs on the wall of the corporate main office in Texas. Did government oversight fail at every level for 35 years, or did one complaint run in the Register in early February by the sister of one of the men start a fire-storm of cya by all envolved.

The sister's originally quoted in the Register made referrals to what her aunt told her about her brother or what some other family member told her. In 35 years, she never visited her mentally challenged brother -- not one visit, not one phone call. Now, as the company is closing down on it's own and she (cont.) 2/27/2009 8:33:23 AM

shrek2 wrote:
(cont.) Once the sister was notified she was the responsible party as the closest living family member, she cries neglect and her first quote was "Where's his money...". This absolutely tells you all you need to know. After 35 years, the sister is hoping to get her hands on brother's money.

These men were abandoned by their families and became wards of the State of Texas. In the 60's and 70's the State promoted programs of putting these men in Farm enviroments like Henry's. While this would not fly today, it was a normal practice in TX at that time. Most of the men at Atalissa have spent their entire adult life there. The are reported to have been happy, proud that they had jobs, and were like a "band of brothers". What would their state be today if they had remained in State run dormitories?? We have been talking about government failures here for weeks, but of course DHS would have done a wonderful job of caring for these men fore the past 35 years... give me a break!! 2/27/2009 8:27:10 AM

cjlind13 wrote:
Replying to mariaconz:
"'They weren't truthful, and they sure as hell weren't forthcoming,' said Rep. Clel Baudler, a Greenfield Republican."

You go, Rep. Baudler! DHS Director Gene Gessow's body language in this photo, with his chin out in a pugnacious fashion, says it all. Does he look like a guy who's "utterly without guile"?? I'm glad that you, Rep. Baudler, can see through this phony.

I imagine everyone at DHS is running around trying to cover his or her own a** if they had any knowledge of this case. Go get them, Rep. Baulder! 2/27/2009 4:49:10 AM

raccoon320 wrote:
DHS is such a fine upstanding agency that their child protection workers can found a child abuse report putting you on the child abuse registry without a due process hearing that every person should get under the 14th amendment. This agency does not seem to care and does not do a good job protecting innocent people but they seem to do an excellent job of hurting innocent people who are wrongfully accused when they try to stand up to the worker. Anything to keep them from looking bad. They have so much and too much power and they misuse it. In some cases I know for a fact that the worker is more interested in ruining a person's life that stood their ground to them than they are in protecting the alleged victim in the cases. They lie so the case looks the way they want it to look for them, no matter who it is hurting.

ABEJr wrote:
How much do we need to cut from the budget? Since these people don't do their job anyway, shut the whole crooked thing down. That would go a long ways to balance the budget...
2/26/2009 7:18:24 PM

Froglina wrote:
Imagine that DHS officals not truthfull!!!!! NO SHOCK HERE!!! I do not think any DHS Offical has a honest bone in there body. What will happen to them , hum NOTHING maybe a slap on the hand, but if a regular person like one of us was not truthful we would be procuted to the fullest extent of the law. 2/26/2009 6:29:04 PM

mariaconz wrote:
"'They weren't truthful, and they sure as hell weren't forthcoming,' said Rep. Clel Baudler, a Greenfield Republican."

You go, Rep. Baudler! DHS Director Gene Gessow's body language in this photo, with his chin out in a pugnacious fashion, says it all. Does he look like a guy who's "utterly without guile"?? I'm glad that you, Rep. Baudler, can see through this phony. 2/26/2009 4:26:47 PM

holdaccountable wrote:
What do we need? A Coup d' etat!!!! A Coup d' etat!!!!! A Coup d' etat!!!!!!!! Empty out the offices of DHS, the chambers of the Iowa House and Senate (except for a select few who should stay because they are doing what Iowans elected them to do. )

Who should stay: To name a few: Senator Amanda Raegan, Senator Jack Hatch, Representative Wayne Ford, just to mention a few.

Who should go: To name a few: Representative Dave Heaton and Senator John P. "Jack" Kibbie - because they both suck up to the nursing home industry and their lobby - neither are friends to the elderly nor the disability community. This only names two but there are many who need to go. Most are republicans. Unfortunately, some are democrats!!! 2/26/2009 4:23:57 PM

holdaccountable wrote:
Those of us who are outraged about what happened to the men at Atalissa are also outraged about the cover up by DHS and DIA (then and now.) So, how do we get from expressing our outrage here, on the blog, to REAL change and overhaul of DHS and DIA?

I think we all know that only a Coup d' etat, will remove the current folks from office and truly hold accoutable those FOOLS who were in change in the 90's. So, how do we ERADICATE the current loosers (Directors, Bureau Chiefs, Assist Atty Generals, etc.) from their positions? We all know these MOLES hide in comfy state jobs, with nice titles and incomes and no one holds them accountable. We all know they watch each others backs (this is what makes it so comfy.) So, where do we go from here? Do we really expect something positive from the congressional hearings and if so, WHAT? What will the congressional hearings change? We know the Gov has no back bone and we know the congressional members (some not all) are boneless. So what?
2/26/2009 2:35:06 PM

Independent111 wrote:
The crooks of DHS want to be protected but could care less about the special needs men they total ignord. Fire them all today!! Do not replace a crook with a crook which has been done in the past.
2/26/2009 11:36:45 AM

avahome wrote:
Replying to Redrozze:
Gene, get a good haircut before you get fired. You really really need one.

Really, the guy looks like a bumb.

justpoor wrote:
They didn't protect these men, so why should the DHS have a chance to say anything. Fire them now!!! Today! Culver could do this without any political agenda as Iowans would be pleased that he stepped up to the plate and said NOT IN OUR STATE!!!! Send e-mails to all political offices today and tell them you will not be happy until it's done!!! 2/26/2009 9:59:25 AM

firstgermangirl wrote:
There is no incentive, nor was there in the past as we have NOW discovered to protect these men. Our tax supported agencies have failed us.

If you think for a moment THIS cannot happen to you or your loved one, YOU are dreaming.

To expect the government agencies and the top law enforcer in the state to protect you is delusional. 2/26/2009 9:28:18 AM

woodnut wrote:
Gee, do you suppose DHS was trying to cover their own rearend when they lied?
Throw them all out of office and start over. None of them have a good enough excuse for what took place 2/26/2009 8:46:25 AM

Moonlight73 wrote:
Ok, I know there is a process for everything. Good for you guys.Form your committees, do your research and all that red tape...but while you do that DHS still continues to fail people every day. Take action now, red tape and bureaucracy are what failed these men. Have you ever heard the saying that if you go about things the same way all the time why would you expect a different end result? That is what will happen here if you do not get it together. Change your ways, change DHS, stop the cycle and do it as fast as possible with as little political agenda as possible.
2/26/2009 8:24:33 AM

Independent111 wrote:
Great job Clel!! Nice to see someone stand up to these rotten bastards.
To work for DHS it is a requirement to be dishonest. Time to clean house at DHS!!
2/26/2009 7:55:46 AM

robertsgunshop wrote:
Good going Clel, you old bulldog you. Keep putting thier feet to the fire. Take care my friend.
2/26/2009 7:44:01 AM

extremelyBizE080727023300 wrote:
These are the kinds of things that go on when you have weak governors that don't know what in the world is going on in their state agencies.

Redrozze wrote:
Gene, get a good haircut before you get fired. You really really need one. 2/26/2009 6:10:11 AM

http://search.desmoinesregister.com/sp? ... &x=12&y=14

State failed workers at Atalissa, Culver says Fri Feb 27, 2009 By CLARK KAUFFMAN [email protected]
Amid a growing national scandal involving Iowa's failure to protect dozens of mentally retarded workers, Gov. Chet Culver declared Thursday that "every level of government bureaucracy failed th... more...

Baudler says DHS officials weren't candid in testimony Thu Feb 26, 2009 By CLARK KAUFFMAN [email protected]
An Iowa legislator says top officials from the Iowa Department of Human Services weren't truthful in their recent testimony before lawmakers regarding Henry's Turkey Service. "They weren't trut... more...

Lawmaker: DHS wasn't truthful on Atalissa case Wed Feb 25, 2009 BY CLARK KAUFFMAN COPYRIGHT 2009, DES MOINES REGISTER AND TRIBUNE CO.
An Iowa legislator says top officials from the Iowa Department of Human Services weren�t truthful in their recent testimony before lawmakers regarding Henry�s Turkey Service. �They weren�t ... more...

Iowa DHS declined request for Atalissa probe in '97, file shows Wed Feb 25, 2009 By CLARK KAUFFMAN [email protected]
Fearing that it could "get in trouble," the Iowa Department of Human Services rejected a 1997 request from Texas state officials to investigate the treatment of mentally retarded men living... more...

Archive Search » More Local News results (4)
Archives- (View All 2 Results)
Fingers pointed at DHS's inaction Wed Feb 18, 2009 Kauffman Clark
[email protected] The Iowa Department of Human Services refused to act on a complaint about the Atalissa bunkhouse where mentally retarded employees of Henry's Turkey Service lived, a city ... more...

Worker kin: '07 Atalissa complaint was rejected Thu Feb 12, 2009 Kauffman Clark
REGISTER EXCLUSIVE By CLARK KAUFFMAN [email protected] c 2009, Des Moines Register and Tribune Company The state of Iowa rejected without investigation a complaint in 2007 about the Atalissa ... more...


Enter into the search box: atalissa

Disabled Texas men were abused in Iowa, ex-worker says
The state fire marshal ordered the 106-year-old Atalissa house closed on Feb. 7 after a citizen report to the state.
Iowa had known of plant's use of mentally disabled
By AMY LORENTZEN : © 2009 The Associated Press
The men worked for Henry's Turkey Service, a Texas company that provided labor for a meatpacker near Atalissa in West Liberty.
Widow questioned on turkey farm workers (w/video)

A deal was struck with the city of Atalissa to rent out the school building for $600 a month.
Papers seized in case of transplanted Texas workers

The Texas Attorney General's Office on Thursday seized business records belonging to a company that took mentally disabled men to Iowa more than 20 years ago to work in turkey processing plants..
Iowa officials surprised Texas workers mistreated
By MIKE GLOVER : © 2009 The Associated Press
The Atalissa officials appeared before the Government Oversight Committee, which is investigating the treatment of the men.
Mom upset by news of Texas son's plight in Iowa (w/video)

Subsequent details since the men's removal from the Atalissa, Iowa, bunkhouse has outraged the men's relatives and advocates for the mentally disabled.
Texans' Iowa case horrifies advocates for the disabled

That meant each man was paying $1,124 a month for their room, board and care inside the converted bunkhouse, a property Henry’s leased from the city of Atalissa for $600 a month.
Iowans deny disabled Texans mistreated (w/video)

About 60 were sent here to Atalissa, a tiny town in eastern Iowa. Inevitably, conversation about the men in Atalissa these days turns to the topic of mistreatment.
Company profited from labor of disabled Texans

Chronicle reporter Mike Tolson reported from Atalissa, Iowa. [email protected] [email protected]
Mentally disabled Texas men taken from Iowa turkey plant
Twenty-one Texans, some in a 'deteriorated state', were removed from a roach-infested bunkhouse in the small town of Atalissa, Iowa. 02/10/2009

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