Philadelphia Group Charged with Hate Crimes in Plan to Carry Out Social Security Fraud
PHILADELPHIA - An indictment1 charging racketeering, murder in aid of racketeering, hate crimes, sex trafficking, forced human labor, theft, fraud, and other violent crimes was unsealed today against Linda Weston, members of her family, and family associates. The indictment alleges that the defendants carried out a violent racketeering enterprise, victimizing six disabled adults and four others, holding them prisoner in subhuman conditions, causing the deaths of at least two victims, prostituting their prisoners, and defrauding the government in order to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in Social Security Benefits. Weston, her daughter Jean McIntosh, and her paramour Gregory Thomas, Sr., are charged along with Eddie Wright, and Nicklaus Woodard with holding four disabled adults against their will. Philadelphia Police Officers rescued the victims from the sub-basement of an apartment building in the city’s Tacony section on October 15, 2011.
Today’s indictment was announced by United States Attorney Zane David Memeger, FBI Acting Special Agent-in-Charge John Brosnan, Special Agent-in-Charge Michael McGill with the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General, and Philadelphia Police Department.
The federal hate crimes charges contained in the indictment are the first filed in the nation that pertain to disabled persons. The indictment alleges that the scheme operated between the Fall of 2001 and October 15, 2011, with Linda Weston as the leader of the Weston Family (WF) racketeering enterprise, and that the defendants held six disabled adults and four others against their will, using abusive control including physically beating or threatening to beat them. It is further alleged that the victims were kept in locked rooms, basements, closets, attics, and apartments with no access to bathrooms, fed no more than one meal a day, and were moved between Philadelphia, Texas, Virginia, and Florida in order to further the scheme and evade law enforcement.
Weston, it is alleged, would target disabled individuals and lure them to the family home by promising to take care of them. Once they signed over control of their social security benefits, making her their designated payee, they were moved to a locked room, basement, attic, or closet. The victims were fed a low calorie, high starch diet to keep their energy levels low and were not fed every day. Weston would allegedly drug the food to keep them sedated. If the victims tried to escape, steal food, protest, or do anything adverse to the rules of the house, they were beaten with bats, sticks, hammers, and fists. They did not receive medical attention. The victims were not permitted to use bathrooms and, instead, were given buckets.
The indictment alleges that the WF enterprise caused the deaths of two of its victim prisoners. For example, in 2002, Weston met M.L. and lured her to come live with the family. M.L. was forced to cook, clean, do wash, and babysit without compensation. M.L. was beaten when she tried to escape or when she begged for food and was not provided with any medical attention for her injuries. The WF enterprise moved to Virginia in 2008 and on November 13, 2008, M.L. died of bacterial meningitis and starvation. Weston allegedly ordered other members of the household to move M.L.’s body to a bedroom and stage the scene before calling law enforcement and the next day the family left for Philadelphia. In April 2005, Weston and Thomas allegedly targeted victim D.S. who they saw standing on a street corner. They brought D.S. to the WF home at 2211 Glenview Avenue in Philadelphia. D.S. was kept in the basement with the other victims, fed a substandard diet, and not allowed to use the bathroom. On June 26, 2005, D.S. was found dead in the basement. Weston allegedly ordered other members of the household to move D.S.’s body to a bedroom and stage an accidental overdose before calling law enforcement.
The indictment further alleges that the female victims were forced to have sex with men from outside the WF or with other members of the household in order to initiate pregnancy so that the enterprise could increase its membership and collect more money. For example, Linda Weston allegedly forced T.B. to have sex with victim E.S., with Gregory Thomas, Sr., and with other. Between September 2004 and September 2008, T.B. became pregnant three times. The first baby was stillborn. She gave birth to a girl in March of 2006 and to a boy in March 2009. Weston allegedly filed to receive benefits for the infants. Weston also allegedly mated her own 14-year old son with a 13-year old victim and her 13-year old daughter with a 14-year old.
“The physically and mentally disabled are among the most vulnerable in our society. They deserve to be treated with respect and compassion, not violence,” said Memeger. “Linda Weston and others, in fact, decided to prey on these victims specifically because of their physical and mental challenges and they did so through violence, fear and intimidation for the purpose of stealing social security payments that were meant for the victims’ long-term care. “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. Hopefully, today’s announcement of a 196-count indictment will help begin the process of restoring the victims’ faith in humanity.”
“Today’s Indictment represents just one more step towards closure and healing, not only for the victims of this heinous hate crime, but for the community as a whole,” said Special Agent-in-Charge John Brosnan. “The FBI, along with the United States Attorney’s Office, the Philadelphia Police Department and the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General remain committed to protecting each and every citizen’s civil rights, and will aggressively investigate any violation of those rights, bringing the perpetrators to justice.”
“The Office of the Inspector General investigates many cases involving the misuse of Social Security benefits by representative payees, but thankfully, we’ve never seen a case involving this level of cruelty and inhumanity to our most vulnerable beneficiaries,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Michael McGill. “We’re pleased to see justice served, and grateful to the U.S. Attorney and our investigative partners for their unflagging support in this investigation.”
All five defendants are charged in the conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, hate crimes, and a variety of other counts. Weston is charged with all of the remaining 193 counts which include: murder in aid of racketeering, sex trafficking, forced human labor, kidnapping, violent crime in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to assault with a dangerous weapon, involuntary servitude, use of a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime, theft from the government, false statements, wire fraud, and mail fraud.
If convicted of all charges, each of the defendants faces a statutory maximum sentence of life in prison with advisory guideline sentencing ranges that involve substantial terms of imprisonment. Weston also faces mandatory restitution in the amount of $407,787.94, fines, and special assessments.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, with assistance from the West Palm Beach office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Richard P. Barrett and Faithe Moore Taylor.
1An Information is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.