Hate Crime, Murder Alleged in Philly Basement Case

Kathy Matheson, AP News, January 23, 2013

A paroled killer targeted mentally disabled adults in a scheme to steal their Social Security benefits, confining them like “zoo animals,” forcing some into prostitution and causing the deaths of two victims through abuse and neglect, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

Linda Weston, 52, of Philadelphia, was indicted on charges including hate crimes, kidnapping, murder in aid of racketeering and forced human labor. It’s the first time the federal hate crimes statute has been used to protect the disabled, authorities said.

Linda Weston

Linda Weston

“Shocking does not begin to describe the criminal allegations in this case, where victims were tied up and confined like zoo animals and treated like property akin to slaves,” U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said.

The case came to light in October 2011 after a landlord discovered four malnourished victims locked in the basement of a Philadelphia apartment building, one of them chained to a boiler. Authorities soon began untangling a complicated web of relationships among victims and their alleged captors in an investigation that spanned several states.

Weston has been jailed since then and pleaded not guilty to related state charges. {snip}

The 150-page grand jury indictment describes Weston as the ringleader of a “family” that included her daughter and three men who prosecutors say helped control and subjugate the victims.

Weston used “cunning, trickery, force and coercion” to get mentally disabled people to designate her as their caretaker, allowing her to illegally collect about $212,000 in Social Security payments over 10 years, Memeger said.

In all, authorities allege six disabled adults and four children were held captive in “subhuman” conditions in basements, attics and closets at various times between 2001 and 2011. The victims were often drugged, deprived of food and medical care, and forced to use buckets for bathrooms, officials said.

{snip}

Weston forced two female victims into prostitution to earn more money for the family when they lived in Texas and Florida, authorities said.

Two other women died while living with Weston, leading to murder charges that make her eligible for the death penalty. Memeger said prosecutors are weighing whether to pursue it.

{snip}

Weston already has served time for the starvation death of a man she locked in her Philadelphia apartment nearly three decades ago.

{snip}

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