Federal Charges Allege Captors Held Adults with Disabilities in Subhuman Conditions to Carry out Social Security Fraud
First Hate Crimes Case of Its Kind in the Country Also Charges Murder
Linda Weston, her daughter and three co-defendants are charged in a 193-count indictment, unsealed today, with racketeering, murder in aid of racketeering, hate crimes, sex trafficking, forced labor, theft, fraud and other crimes. The indictment alleges that Weston and her associates carried out a racketeering enterprise that targeted victims with mental disabilities as part of a scheme to steal disability payments from the victims and the Social Security system. As part of the scheme, Weston persuaded each victim to make her the designated recipient of their Social Security disability payments in exchange for the promise of a comfortable place to live. Once appointed as the designated recipient of disability payments, Weston, aided by the co-defendants, subjected the victims to subhuman conditions of captivity.
According to the indictment, the defendants beat the victims, kept them captive in locked closets, basements and attics, deprived them of adequate food and medical care, and moved them between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Florida in order to further the scheme and evade law enforcement. According to the indictment, some of the victims endured this abuse for years, until Oct. 15, 2011, when Philadelphia Police Department officers rescued them from the sub-basement of an apartment building in the city’s Tacony section.
Today’s indictment was announced at a press conference by U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Zane David Memeger, FBI Acting Special Agent-in-Charge John Brosnan, Special Agent-in-Charge Michael McGill with the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
Along with Weston and her daughter Jean McIntosh, the indictment charges Weston’s paramour, Gregory Thomas Sr., Eddie Wright and Nicklaus Woodard. According to the indictment, the defendants used isolation, intimidation, threats of violence and violence to control the victims with mental disabilities and each defendant had a role in the racketeering enterprise:
?? Linda Weston was the leader and organizer of the enterprise that operated from at least the fall of 2001 through October of 2011. She enticed all of the victims into coming to live with the enterprise and controlled all aspects of their captivity.
?? Jean McIntosh was also a leader of the enterprise who acted as her mother’s right hand woman. She assisted in confining, controlling, disciplining, housing and transporting the victims.
?? Gregory Thomas Sr. assisted in obtaining, confining, controlling, housing and transporting the victims. He installed locks on the doors and windows of every residence where the victims were kept to prevent them from escaping.
?? Eddie Wright assisted in confining, controlling, housing and transporting the victims.
?? Nicklaus Woodard assisted in confining, controlling and disciplining the victims.
The indictment charges that in confining the victims, the defendants practiced what is described as “abusive control and confinement techniques” in which the defendants:
· Confined the victims to locked basements, rooms, closets, attics and apartments;
· Sedated the victims by putting drugs in the food and drink served to them by Weston and others, at Weston’s direction;
· Subdued the victims by serving them a low calorie, high starch diet consisting exclusively of Ramen noodles, beans and stew and generally limited them to, at most, one meal a day;
· Punished the victims by slapping, punching, kicking, stabbing, burning and hitting them with closed hands, belts, sticks, bats and hammers or other objects, including the butt of a pistol, when the victims tried to escape, stole food or otherwise protested their confinement and treatment.
The indictment alleges that Weston’s use of these techniques caused the deaths of two of the victims. For example, in 2002, Weston met M.L. and lured her to come live with the family. M.L. was forced to cook, clean, wash clothes and babysit without compensation. M.L. was beaten when she tried to escape or when she begged for food and was not provided with any medical attention for her injuries. When Weston moved the enterprise to Virginia in 2008, M.L. died of bacterial meningitis and starvation. Weston allegedly ordered other members of the household to move M.L.’s body to a bedroom and stage the scene before calling law enforcement and the next day the family left for Philadelphia. In addition, in April 2005, Weston and Thomas allegedly targeted victim D.S. who they saw standing on a street corner. They brought D.S. to the WF home at 2211 Glenview Avenue in Philadelphia. D.S. was kept in the basement with the other victims, fed a substandard diet, and not allowed to use the bathroom. On June 26, 2005, D.S. was found dead in the basement. Weston allegedly ordered other members of the household to move D.S.’s body to a bedroom and stage an accidental overdose before calling law enforcement.
The indictment also alleges that Weston forced two female captives to engage in prostitution while the enterprise operated in Killeen, Texas, and West Palm Beach, Fla.
The defendants are charged in four counts of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Shepard-Byrd Act criminalizes certain acts of physical violence causing bodily injury motivated by any person's actual or perceived disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.
“The allegations in this indictment describe a scheme to physically abuse and subjugate persons with disabilities for purposes of de-humanizing them, stealing their money, and unlawfully obtaining their labor,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “The laws against violently assaulting individuals because of their disabilities and those that prohibit human trafficking were designed to combat conduct aimed at vulnerable members of society, such as the alleged victims in this case.”
“Those with physical and mental disabilities are among the most vulnerable in our society. As with everyone else, they deserve to be treated with respect, not violence,” said U.S. Attorney Memeger. “Linda Weston and others, in fact, decided to prey on these victims specifically because of their disabilities and they did so through violence, fear and intimidation for the purpose of stealing social security payments that were meant for the victims’ long-term care. ‘Shocking’ does not begin to describe the criminal allegations in this case where the victims were tied-up and confined like zoo animals and treated like property akin to slaves. Hopefully, today’s announcement of a 196-count indictment will help begin the process of restoring the victims’ faith in humanity.”
“Today’s indictment represents just one more step towards closure and healing, not only for the victims of this heinous hate crime, but for the community as a whole,” said Special Agent-in-Charge John Brosnan. “The FBI, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Philadelphia Police Department and the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General remain committed to protecting each and every citizen's civil rights, and will aggressively investigate any violation of those rights, bringing the perpetrators to justice.”
"The Office of the Inspector General investigates many cases involving the misuse of Social Security benefits by representative payees, but thankfully, we've never seen a case involving this level of cruelty and inhumanity to our most vulnerable beneficiaries," said Special Agent-in-Charge Michael McGill. "We're pleased to see justice served, and grateful to the U.S. Attorney and our investigative partners for their unflagging support in this investigation."
If convicted of all charges, each of the defendants faces a statutory maximum sentence of life in prison with advisory guideline sentencing ranges that involve substantial terms of imprisonment. Weston also faces mandatory restitution in the amount of approximately $212,000, fines, and special assessments.
An indictment is merely an accusation; all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The case was investigated by the FBI, the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the Philadelphia Police Department, with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, West Palm Beach Field Office. It is being prosecuted by Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Betsy Biffl and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard P. Barrett and Faithe Moore Taylor. The case was originally charged by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.