The Department of Justice has announced the indictment of five people who allegedly held victims with mental disabilities captive in subhuman conditions to carry out Social Security fraud. The indictment alleges the defendants used victims with mental disabilities as part of a racketeering enterprise to steal disability payments from the victims and the Social Security system.
Linda Weston, and four co-defendants were charged in a 193-count indictment on January 23, 2013. The charges include: racketeering, murder in aid of racketeering, hate crimes, sex trafficking, forced labor, theft, fraud, and other crimes. The co-defendants are Weston’s daughter, Jean McIntosh, Weston’s boyfriend, Gregory Thomas Sr., Eddie Wright, and Nicklaus Woodard.
Weston promised each victim a comfortable place to live if they made her the designated recipient of their Social Security disability payments. Once Weston became the recipient of the payments, the indictment claims that she and the other co-defendants held the victims captive in subhuman conditions. Some victims were held for years.
On Oct. 15, 2011, Philadelphia Police Department officers rescued the victims from the sub-basement of an apartment building.
"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.” Memeger added that he hoped that the indictment “will help begin the process of restoring the victims’ faith in humanity.”
The indictment claims that the victims with mental disabilities were:
- Kept captive in locked closets, attics and basements
- Sedated by drugs put in their food and drink by Weston and others at Weston’s direction
- Kept in isolation
- Intimidated and threatened with violence by the defendants so that the defendants could maintain control over them
- Subdued by a low calorie, high starch diet consisting exclusively of Ramen noodles, beans and stew served once a day at most
- Punished by slaps, punching, kicking, stabbing, burning and hitting with closed hands, or objects such as belts, sticks, bats, and hammers, and the butt of a pistol when the victims tried to escape, stole food or complained about the way they were treated
- Deprived of medical care
- Forced to move between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Florida in order to run the enterprise and evade law enforcement
The indictment charges Linda Weston with leading and organizing the enterprise, which operated from at least the fall of 2001 to October of 2011. She enticed the victims to become part of the scheme and then controlled every part of their captivity. Jean McIntosh, Weston’s daughter, also led the enterprise and acted as her mother’s right hand woman. She assisted in confining, controlling, disciplining, and transporting the victims. The other defendants participated in various abusive and illengal aspects of the enterprise.
The indictment also alleges that Weston’s techniques caused the deaths of two victims, and that Weston forced two female captives into prostitution while 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.
An indictment is an accusation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. If convicted of all charges, each of the defendants faces a statutory maximum sentence of life in prison. The advisory guideline sentencing ranges for these crimes involve substantial prison terms. Weston may also be sentenced to make mandatory restitution of approximately $212,000, fines, and special assessments.
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, and was assisted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, West Palm Beach Field Office.