ATALISSA - A refrigerator filled with carrots, salad dressing, gallons of milk and nonalcoholic beer hummed Wednesday next to cabinets where plastic plates and drinking glasses are neatly stacked in the dining area of a bunkhouse where 21 mentally disabled men lived until last week.

The house, an old school owned by the town of Atalissa and rented to Texas-based Henry's Turkey Service, was declared a fire hazard by state fire inspectors and an investigation is under way to determine if it was being operated as an unlicensed care center.

"I'm not embarrassed by any of this," said Warren Davis, a Henry's Turkey Service employee who moved into the building three weeks ago. "It is rundown, but it is a 100-year-old building."

The aqua-blue building with three levels and an attached gymnasium that served as a communal area also had three mobile homes attached. An attached quonset hut of sheet metal, painted the same shade of blue, served as the home's kitchen.

The building was warm on Wednesday's 40-degree day. Thermometers were mounted in many rooms throughout the building, which has had no central heating system since 2002 and was warmed by space heaters. The warmest read 80 degrees, while the coolest, 70 degrees. Windows in the old school rooms were covered by plastic held in place by wood planks nailed to the frames. The rooms have air conditioners in the summer, Davis said.

"They haven't suffered from cold weather," he said of the men who were removed. "I never saw anyone mistreated."

Davis, who gave the tour along with Dave Scieszinski, an attorney for the turkey service, used an obscenity to describe the Iowa Department of Human Services workers who have swarmed through the bunkhouse since the raid Friday. Scieszinski declined to comment during the tour. Davis scoffed at some of the media descriptions of the building's interior.

After the garish blue and green shades on the outside, a cheery palette of colors greets visitors inside. Past a plywood outer door, the tidy communal area is outfitted with brightly painted tables, lounge chairs, two large screen televisions and a pool table.

Dormitory-style rooms for "the boys," who range in age from 39 to 70, runs the length of the former gymnasium. The dorm rooms were often untidy, and some looked like they were left hurriedly.

One hallway smelled from a dirty bathroom, and some of the dormitory areas smelled dirty and musty.

Paper from yellow legal pads sat on the beds with the names of each bed's former occupant on it to denote their possessions. NASCAR signs and NFL football posters often decorated rooms. Each room had a television and DVD player. Several occupants left behind stacks of DVDs, and some rooms had stereos.

Electrical cords snaked through rooms and power strips were jammed with plugs. Space heaters were visible in some rooms, and doors marked as exits were often blocked. Locks weren't readily visible on those doors. Davis mentioned two entrances to the building. The school building's front entrance was locked.

A cat's lone meow came from the darkness of the garage where "the boys" loaded into vans to go to West Liberty Foods, where they worked under a contract with Henry's. The tour winding down, Davis stopped to light a cigarette.

"I saw a bunch of people come and go," he said of the building he had visited off and on since 1976, "and boys come and go."

The issues

What happened: Twenty-one mentally disabled men, ages 39-70, were removed last week from an old school turned into a bunkhouse in Atalissa, Iowa, after it was declared a fire hazard by state fire officials. The men were employed and housed by Henry's Turkey Service, which had a contract with West Liberty Foods to provide employees. Some of the men worked there for more than 20 years.

The house on the hill: The blue-green building is owned by the town of Atalissa and rented to Henry's Turkey Service.

Where are they now? The men were placed by the Department of Human Services in a variety of homes and facilities in Waterloo, Iowa, under the care of Exceptional Persons Inc.

Investigation: The men were declared dependents of the state Monday, and the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals plans to request charges for operating an unlicensed care center. Iowa law requires a facility be licensed if three or more dependent adults live together.

The money: DHS officials are trying to understand the financial arrangement between the men and Henry's Turkey Service. The firm appeared to act as a fiscal agent, with control over the men's Supplemental Security Income checks.

Pay loophole: Henry's Turkey Service used a federal law that allows companies to pay workers with diminished mental capacity less than minimum wage. Company records have been subpoenaed as part of the investigation into whether the men authorized paycheck deductions for room and board and whether they had the mental capacity to give such authorizations.


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