Days before a trial was set to begin in a Philadelphia court, a 196-count federal indictment has come down against those accused of holding mentally disabled people in order to keep their benefit checks.
U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger says the indictment alleges that Linda Weston, her daughter and three others ran a criminal enterprise when they detained 10 mentally disabled adults while keeping over $200,000 worth of their Social Security disability checks.
“Escape for these individuals seemed impossible because Weston and the others kept them confined, locked in closets basements and attics,” said Memeger. “Rescue from the outside world also appeared impossible because Weston stayed on the move, going from state to state — Pennsylvania, Virginia Texas, Florida — in order to avoid law enforcement scrutiny.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge for Philadelphia John Brosnan says law enforcement is fighting for those who could not fight back.
“The victims were targeted as the indictment alleges, because of their disabilities,” said Brosnan. “They were targeted because they could not protect themselves and they could not stand up for their own rights.”
Two died while under Weston’s supervision — one from bacterial meningitis and starvation. That person was left behind when Weston fled Virginia for Pennsylvania. Memeger says another apparently died of starvation in Philadelphia and the body was moved to a bedroom and staged to appear as if death were due to an overdose.
“Shocking does not start to describe the criminal allegations in this case, where victims were tied up like zoo animals and treated like property akin to slaves,” he said.
Memeger says this is the first time that federal hate crimes legislation has been used in this type of prosecution. Weston could face the death penalty, but prosecutors have not decided whether to seek it.
After initially saying the local trial would proceed in addition to the federal case, the office of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams issued a statement Wednesday afternoon that it would withdraw its charges against Weston and her co-defendants next week.
“The trial for Linda Weston, Gregory Thomas, Eddie Wright and Jean McIntosh is scheduled to begin on Jan. 28 in courtroom 801. At that time, the Commonwealth plans on withdrawing charges against them, due to the federal charges,” according to the statement.