A Philadelphia judge has dismissed criminal charges against a man accused of helping to imprison five mentally challenged adults in a Tacony apartment building in October to steal their Social Security checks.
But Municipal Court Judge Patrick Dugan ordered three co-defendants in the case to stand trial for kidnapping, assault, theft by deception and related offenses.
Dugan’s ruling followed a lengthy preliminary hearing on Monday and Tuesday during which one of the victims, 31-year-old Edwin Sanabria, recounted how lead defendant Linda Ann Weston and her co-defendants manipulated him, abused him and took his income over a 10-year span as they traveled from state to state with numerous other disabled people.
Weston, 51; her boyfriend Gregory Thomas, 47; her daughter Jean McIntosh, 32; and Eddie Wright, 50; led the victims from Philadelphia to Texas, Virginia and Florida, then ultimately back to Philadelphia to keep the income-stealing scheme going, according to Sanabria.
Yet, Sanabria’s testimony at times also painted Wright as a victim of Weston and her family, who sometimes ordered the man they called “Pastor Eddie” to live in the same squalid conditions as the captives.
In dismissing the case against Wright, Dugan reportedly said that he “cannot in good conscience hold Mister Wright for trial.”
Sanabria told the court that Wright slept with four victims in the dark, damp and soiled utility basement of an apartment building at 4724 Longshore Ave. for about 10 days after Weston and Thomas had led the group to Philly from West Palm Beach, Fla. Described by police as a “sub-basement,” the room adjoins a larger basement beneath the seven-unit apartment building.
McIntosh was renting a second-floor apartment and, in cooperation with the other defendants, kept a fifth victim captive in her closet, authorities claim.
In the utility basement, Weston removed all the light bulbs from their fixtures and wrapped a chain around the latch on an industrial-style door so that the victims could not open it from the inside, Sanabria said. She chained one male victim to a boiler pipe and supplied them with a single bucket to use as a toilet.
The room measures about 14 feet by 8 feet and became known as “the hole” to Sanabria and the other victims.
The non-resident landlord, Turgut Gozloveli, discovered the makeshift dungeon on Oct. 15 when he went there to investigate complaints of barking dogs. He called police, who found one woman and three men, along with a poodle-size dog named Joe, behind the chained door.
“The smell was unbearable. It smelled like death,” Officer John Murphy, of the 15th district, testified. “It smelled like human feces, animal feces, body odor, all of that.”
In court, Sanabria further recalled how Wright was the only one of the basement occupants allowed to go outside in the daytime. Weston allegedly used him as a driver and to manage the other victims.
Wright would bring food to the captives once or twice a day, Sanabria said. Meals usually consisted of small portions of beans, rice, noodles or oatmeal.
The only time the captives were permitted outside “the hole” was when they bathed in the larger adjoining basement. Wright would dump the waste bucket, which they used to hold bathwater, Sanabria said.
Sanabria, whom Murphy described as the most communicative of the victims, often stumbled when asked in court to reconstruct details of his decade-long odyssey with Weston.
“I don’t remember everything because we were moving place to place,” he said.
He first met Weston in 2001 when one of the other victims introduced him to her. By that time, Weston had already served several years in prison for an earlier murder conviction involving the beating death of her younger sister’s estranged boyfriend.
Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Erin O’Brien, Sanabria said he moved into Weston’s North Philly residence on the very day that he met her because he “had nowhere else to stay.” Weston soon had him sign his Social Security benefits into her control. The checks amounted to $674 a month.
During the ensuing 10 years, Sanabria traveled with what he considered his adopted “family” to Texas, Virginia, Florida and Philadelphia. The group stayed in apartments, houses and at least one trailer, living in Texas for at least two separate stints and returning to Philadelphia at least twice, Sanabria said.
In potentially contradictory testimony, Sanabria agreed that he voluntarily joined Weston and the others each time they moved and that nobody “forced” him to go with them. Yet, he further explained, if he ever wanted to exit the usually crowded or confined spaces in which he was kept, he first would have to “ask permission” from Weston.
He tried to escape from her once, but she found him and returned him to the group, he said.
While in West Palm Beach, Fla., Sanabria said, they lived for a while in a house they called “the little mansion,” where Weston put him in a closet and nailed the door closed.
It was in that house that Sanabria says he saw Weston beat two female victims with sticks, bats and a chain, while he saw Wright beat the women with his hands and an extension cord.
Sanabria further testified that before moving to Florida, he stayed with Weston, Thomas, Wright and several other victims in Killeen, Texas, where he was locked in the attic of a house with two women, who also were mentally disabled. One of the women later died while in Weston’s care in Virginia.
In another beating incident, Sanabria said, Weston swung a metal broom handle at one of the female victims, but he stepped between the women and took the blow on his chest. He still has a large scar from the cut he received.
Weston, Thomas and Wright allegedly drove Sanabria and four other victims to Philadelphia in early October and immediately went to the Longshore Avenue building where McIntosh had earlier moved.
The only one of the victims not forced into the basement was Weston’s own niece, Beatrice Weston, authorities claim.
During testimony on Tuesday, the 20-year-old Weston recalled how she was locked in McIntosh’s closet on Longshore Avenue and that her aunt had forced her into prostitution. The elder Weston would bring men to her and force her to have sex with them. The elder Weston would collect the payment.
Linda Weston has also been charged with prostitution-related offenses.
A trial date has not been set. All three remaining defendants remain in jail in lieu of bail. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org