A Philadelphia woman has pleaded guilty to charges that she participated in a scheme that involved drugging and beating captive mentally-disabled people to steal their Social Security checks.
Following Wednesday’s “change of plea” hearing in federal court, Linda Ann Weston is expected to serve life in prison for her role in an unprecedented plot that crossed state lines and claimed two lives.
Weston, 55, could have faced the death penalty. Under her plea deal, that option is now off the table.
“We’re just grateful to the government that they saw this from a justice point of view and closure, not just for Ms. Weston, but all of the victims in the case,” said Patricia McKinney, who represents Weston.
Just before she was set to go on trial in state court in 2013, the feds announced a 196-count indictment against Weston and four alleged associates. Under her plea deal, Weston agreed to plead guilty to all counts.
Weston must also pay $273, 468.23 in restitution, the amount of money stolen from her victims.
The slew of charges against Weston includes murder, kidnapping, racketeering conspiracy, theft of government services and hate crimes.
Some of those are tied to October 2011, when police discovered four captives inside a squalid, Northeast Philadelphia sub-basement later dubbed the “Tacony dungeon.”
On Wednesday, prosecutors said the victims were dirty and malnourished and that the room reeked of “death.”
“The police described it as one of the worst scenes that they ever saw. And we think that’s accurate based on our investigations,” said U.S. Attorney Faith Taylor.
Other victims – most lured to live with Weston after becoming estranged with their own families – were drugged and beaten, sometimes with bats and, in at least one instance, the butt of a gun.
They were kept captive in apartments, attics and closets and forced to drink their own urine and eat feces.
Two women died while in Weston’s care, the location of which changed several times between 2001 and 2011. The scam started in Philadelphia, but was also moved to Texas, Virginia and Florida in an effort to avoid detection.
When police first discovered the “Tacony dungeon”, Weston was pegged as the ringleader of the operations. On Wednesday, her attorneys now dispute that characterization.
Weston left school after fourth grade and had difficulty understanding several questions during Wednesday’s hearing.
Two of Weston’s co-defendants – Eddie Ray Wright and Weston’s daughter, Jean McIntosh – have already pleaded guilty.
Weston is scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 5. U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, who presided over the case, said Wednesday she plans on heeding the plea deal’s recommended sentence of life in prison, unless something changes.
“I can’t imagine what that would be at this point,” said Rufe.