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Collecting disabled workers' judgment difficult

Sunday - 3/9/2014, 9:20pm  ET

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Federal and state officials are having trouble collecting the multimillion-dollar judgment a Texas company was ordered to pay for mistreating 32 mentally disabled workers at an Iowa labor camp.

The Des Moines Register reports (http://dmreg.co/1nwRGmj ) Henry's Turkey Service of Goldthwaite, Texas, has yet to pay nearly $6 million in judgment money and fines against the company and its leader Kenneth Henry.

A jury agreed last year that Henry's discriminated against its employees, who were hired out to work at an Iowa turkey processing plant. The initial verdict was the largest in the history of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which brought the case.

Henry's Turkey Service sent hundreds of mentally disabled men from Texas to labor camps in seven states.

In Iowa, the 32 mentally disabled men lived in a dilapidated former schoolhouse in Atalissa for years. They were paid roughly $65 a month no matter how many hours they worked and endured verbal and physical abuse.

The Iowa operation was shut down in 2009 after family members reported the conditions to state officials.

So far, federal officials have collected assets worth between $30,000 and $40,000, and they're collecting about $3,500 in monthly lease payments on land owned by Henry.

Iowa regulators say they don't plan to pursue the $1.1 million in penalties the company owes the state because it appears unlikely Henry's will pay.

"Because of the bankruptcy filing, it's likely none of the penalties will be collected," said Kerry Koonce, spokeswoman for the state labor commissioner.

Attorney Robert Canino, who represented the workers, said he and federal Justice Department officials continue looking for ways to collect what is owed to the men.

Records suggest that Henry and his business partner owned a Texas ranch worth $2.5 million in 2009, and the company owned property worth between $3 million and $4 million.

"So it is a matter of what can be done to attempt to secure those kinds of assets toward liquidation that would go to the men for the damages they have been awarded," Canino said.

Sherri Brown, sister of former worker Keith Brown, who now lives in Fayetteville, Ark., said she doesn't expect to ever receive any money from the case.

"I have never had any illusions about us seeing one dime from all of this," she said. "Keith does expect that, though. He occasionally asks about that, and I have to explain to him that we fought this case for other people, so that this sort of thing would never happen again to anyone else."

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com


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