A Philadelphia woman and four others face a first-of-its-kind hate crimes prosecution for allegedly imprisoning mentally handicapped adults in a basement while stealing their benefit checks.
The 196 count federal grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday claims that Linda Ann Weston, 52, and her alleged accomplices preyed on people with mental disabilities from 2001 to 2011. Four adults were found confined in her Philadelphia basement.
“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,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Zane Memeger said in a statement.
The case will be the first to utilize a 2009 statute that enhanced punishments for criminals who target the mentally disabled. Weston is accused of targeting mentally disabled people in order to steal their Social Security disability payments.
Investigators in Philadelphia said in 2011 that Weston and her accomplices were carrying out a “widespread fraud scheme,” and that they trafficked the victims from Texas to Florida to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, they held their alleged victims in Weston’s daughter’s apartment building.
The victims are believed to have been in the 6 by 10 foot boiler room for about 10 days. They were found in October 2011 reeking of excrement from the bucket they were forced to use, police said.