Eight children were in protective custody in Philadelphia Wednesday after the adults caring for them had been arrested and charged with holding four mentally disabled adults captive in a Tacony basement.
It is the latest development in a case that broke Saturday when the adult victims were freed from a dank sub-basement where they were being held, likely so their disability or Social Security payments could be stolen.
Police said they got a tip Saturday from Florida, where the group lived prior to moving to Philadelphia, that there were a number of kids involved. The juveniles were taken into Department of Human Services custody Tuesday and Wednesday and are now in foster care.
Some are related to the arrested adults. Two are thought to be the children of one of the adult victims. Police say they are investigating whether she was forced to have sex to get her pregnant.
In addition to the eight kids, police also found the 19-year-old niece of the operation’s presumed ring-leader, Linda Ann Weston. The young woman had been reported missing in 2009, and Philadelphia Police spokesman Ray Evers said they later found out she was being hidden in the Tacony apartment while police were searching the area.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said the niece, Beatrice Weston, had burn marks and evidence of fractures and pellet gun injuries when she was found in the Frankford area and hospitalized.
“Let me just say that I’ve been a policeman for a long time, 40 some odd years, and I have never seen a victim whose injuries were any more severe,” Ramsey said. “At least not a living victim.”
Disability rights advocates say the case should draw attention to the fact that there are not adequate checks and balances in place when third parties become custodians for Social Security benefits, a process which can happen online. The Social Security Administration would not comment on its investigation into the case, but said it recently brought in outside groups to help evaluate and strengthen their system.
Police say Linda Ann Weston had identification documents of some 50 other people, and they are working to determine if those documents represent additional victims.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said more arrests in the next few days are likely. Since the fraud and abuse took place in multiple states, including Texas and Florida, it is unclear where a case would be tried.
“Without hyperbole or being glib, people have asked me, what do I want to happen to these people, where should we prosecute?” Williams said. “Wherever the prison’s going to be the worst.”