Bait and Switch


For decades, dozens of intellectually disabled men from Texas lived in squalor in a small Iowa town, abused., working for $65 a month, with little hope for a better life.

Two of those men were from right here on the High Plains.

"I remember, more than anything else, was that they were staying with my mother and we came in from Carslbad and the boys weren't there. You know, she said, well I had to send them away, I couldn't handle them anymore," Wesley Penner, the older brother of two of the disabled men said. 

Penner's brothers, Robert and Billy, were two of the intellectually disabled men who suffered abuse and discrimination during their time working  for Texas Company, Henry's Turkey Service.

Penner hasn't seen his two younger brothers in decades.

"They farmed them out, I think they called it back then. They didn't show the inside. And they said that's where it was bad. But the outside was kept up, well painted and everything. But you know, you look at the outside, never into the inside. You don't know what's going on inside," Penner said of the company where then worked.

The inside was a dark place for the men. The company., based out of Goldwaithe, Texas, sent the Penner boys and many others to a processing plant in Iowa, never registering them with the state and effectively making them invisible.

According to Robert Canino, the Dallas District Attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who tried the case, interviews indicate hundreds of men were victim to this operation over several decades.

"They had only been receiving 65 dollars per month, or roughly 2 dollars per day," Canino said, "What we learned was that they had been bascially held captive. We continued to learn that there were also extreme punishments administered. They were kicked and hit and pushed down stairs. One gentleman was handcuffed. Another gentleman was locked in his room," Canino said, recounting the injustices endured by the men. 

The case was filed in 2011. Last May, a jury handed down a verdict award of $240 million, the largest verdict in the EEOC's history.

That amount was later reduced, to about $100,000 per man, but Canino says, it made a statement.

"People with intellectual disabilities are not second class citizens. That their lives have an incredibly great value, and that verdict was for only two years of the loss of enjoyment of life that they suffered," Canino said. 

Lives stolen, for decades.

"It's very sad. That's about the only thing I can say. Because it's one of them things that you know, its too late," Wesley Penner said. 

Wesley Penner sent his brothers a scrapbook when they were taken away from Henry's Turkey Service. Penner says they ask to visit often.

When asked what he wants for his brothers, who now live in a home in Iowa, Penner says simply;

"That they can be happy."

Happy in a new life, away from the tragedy that stole so many years from these men.

More Stories

Don't Miss

Latest News