By Tony Hanson, Jericka Duncan
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Five people have been indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the notorious Philadelphia “Basement of Horrors” case. The federal indictment includes 196 counts of hate crimes, kidnapping, sex trafficking and, now, two counts of murder.
Authorities allege that two of the six adult victims died from their inhuman treatment at the hands of the defendants — one in Virginia, one in Philadelphia as the the ring moved from state to state.
“From approximately to 2001 to October 2011 Linda Weston conspired with her co-defendants and the specifically targeted mentally ill adults who were qualified to received benefits because of their disabilities,” said U.S. attorney Zane David Memeger.
The federal grand jury alleges that the racketeering conspiracy, masterminded by Linda Weston, tricked and kidnapped their victims, then beat and tortured them for money (see all related coverage).
“Weston and her co-defendants warehoused these people while soaking up Social Security payments,” says Memeger. “Victims were tied up and confined like zoo animals and treated like property a kin to slaves.” He says “shocking” doesn’t begin to describe the conduct of the defendants in this case.
“They controlled them by beating or threatening them, fed them low-energy diets, and drugged them to keep them calm. She forced two of the female victims into prostitution in order to obtain additional money,” he says.
Weston, 52, also allegedly forced victims, including children, to have sex to produce additional children — and thereby additional government benefits.
Prosecutors say it’s the first time the federal hate crimes statute has been used to protect the disabled. All the defendants face possible sentences of life in prison if convicted, and Weston could face the death penalty on the murder counts.
Weston and others previously faced state charges in the case, which stemmed from the October 2011 discovery of malnourished victims locked in the basement of a Tacony apartment building. Those local charges are now being dismissed as the feds take over the multi-state case.
A 5th arrest was made Wednesday morning, according to prosecutors. They say 26-year-old Nicklaus Woodard of West Palm Beach assisted in confining, controlling, and disciplining the disabled adults.
Weston and her co-defendants, 33-year-old Jean McIntosh, 49-year-old Gregory Thomas, Sr. and 52-year-old Eddie Wright, are scheduled to appear in court Monday, January 28th, for a formal arraignment.
Authorities allege that Weston illegally reaped $212,000 in disability payments over ten years.