Federal prosecutors have charged the purported “mom” of the Tacony “House of Horrors” with two counts of murder and numerous hate crimes as part of a 150-page grand jury indictment released on Wednesday.
The 196-count indictment further accuses Linda Ann Weston, 53, and four others with racketeering, sex trafficking, kidnapping, forced human labor, theft, fraud and other offenses in connection with a decade-long scheme to steal the Social Security benefits of six mentally disabled adults and four children.
“‘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,” said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger.
The defendants were charged under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which criminalizes violence motivated by a person’s disability, race, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity.
Philadelphia police uncovered the alleged conspiracy when they found four mentally disabled adults locked inside the dungeon-like utility basement of a Tacony apartment building on Oct. 15, 2011. The building is on the 4700 block of Torresdale Ave.
The victims were malnourished and showed signs of physical abuse. Later, investigators found a fifth victim, identified as Weston’s teenage niece, who had been imprisoned inside a closet of one of the apartment units.
The grand jury indictment states that Weston and her “family” began targeting disabled people at least as early as 2001. The defendants lured victims with promises of a place to live and romantic relationships, then convinced victims to surrender their government benefits and subjugated them to abuse.
Weston allegedly encouraged victims to have sexual relations with one another and prostituted female victims in an effort to grow the “family” and collect more benefits.
Weston and her cohorts allegedly operated the scheme in Philadelphia, Florida, Virginia and Texas, traveling from place to place with victims to avoid detection by authorities. The grand jury identified 10 victims in all, two of whom died allegedly as a result of Weston’s use of “abusive control and confinement techniques.”
One death occurred at a home on 2211 Glenview Ave. in Philadelphia in 2005 and a second occurred in Virginia in 2008. Weston allegedly obscured the true circumstances of both deaths before contacting local authorities, who did not charge her criminally with either death.
The alleged captors also included Weston’s daughter Jean McIntosh, Weston’s boyfriend Gregory Thomas Sr., a self-described street preacher named Eddie “Pastor” Wright and a West Palm Beach, Fla., man named Nicklaus R. Woodard.
McIntosh, 33; Thomas, 49; and Wright, 52, were all awaiting trial locally for kidnapping, assault, theft and other offenses related to the five Tacony victims. Authorities arrested Woodard, 26, in Florida on Wednesday. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office announced late Wednesday that it planned to withdraw the local charges against the defendants.
If convicted on all counts, Weston could face the death penalty, while the other four defendants could face life in prison. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org