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Hate Crimes Alleged After People With Disabilities Held Captive

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In a first-of-its-kind hate crimes case, federal prosecutors are accusing five people of holding individuals with disabilities captive in subhuman conditions in order to steal their Social Security benefits.

A 193-count indictment unsealed Wednesday describes a decade-long scheme by which alleged ringleader Linda Weston convinced people with developmental disabilities and other special needs to make her the designated recipient of their Social Security payments. In exchange, Weston promised them a good place to live.

Instead, prosecutors say Weston, her daughter and three others kept their victims in locked closets, basements and attics while subjecting them to beatings and denying them food and medical attention. Some in Weston’s care were allegedly forced into prostitution and two died.

Between the fall of 2001 and October 2011, when police rescued the captives from a Philadelphia basement, prosecutors say the group moved between Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Florida in an effort to evade law enforcement. There were 10 victims held at various times, according to the indictment.

Charges against Weston and her co-defendants include racketeering, murder in aid of racketeering, hate crimes, sex trafficking, forced labor, theft and fraud, among others. Each of those accused faces life in prison and Weston may be responsible for $212,000 in restitution, prosecutors said.

The case marks the first time that federal hate crimes protections for those with disabilities, which were enacted in 2009, will be used.

“Linda Weston and others, in fact, decided to prey on these victims specifically because of their disabilities 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,” said Zane David Memeger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “‘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.”

Officials from the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General said they investigate many allegations of representative payees misusing benefits, but had never seen a case involving such “cruelty and inhumanity.”

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Comments (8 Responses)

  1. Lori Emmons says:

    I seriously doubt this crime is the first of its kind. What is more unfortunate is that this story didn’t get publicized like other murders & hate crimes or cause an uproar. It’s appalling & if it had been “normal” people the settlement would have been quadruple that amount. Also, I can’t imagine why it is reported so long after the fact..

  2. Susan Ford Keller says:

    Vulnerable adults sometimes need protection from themselves, no matter how much we wish otherwise. Families of the victims most likely had no legal say in the arrangements their disabled adult children made with these criminals. Fostering strengths and independence in people with disabilities is a good thing but clearly must be tempered with common sense. I’m not blaming the victims in any way but rather our system of laws which made it possible for unrelated adults to become representative payees for vulnerable adults, who then are victimized.

  3. KA101 says:

    Yeah, not the first time …humans have preyed on PwD and unfortunately it probably won’t be the last.

    It’s not unknown for investigations to take a while–but I’d agree that over a year post-rescue seems rather long.

    Agreed that $212,000 is extremely small restitution–I’m guessing that’s just the Social Security benefits from the final few years. Medical & therapy bills for the damage she did? I’m guessing $1M or so.

    And as for the non-family payee issue–not all family members have their kin’s best interests at heart. Colleague of mine has a payee, who happens to be a decently supportive parent. Unfortunately xyr other parent, may he rest in pieces, was abusive and caused significant trauma. Had the living/dead parents been flipped here, he’s the last person who ought to be a payee. Just something to keep in mind, there.

  4. Cristy Newlin says:

    In regards to non-relatives becoming payees and taking advantage of people – it happens within families too. In my experience, I see more it in families that have become reliant upon those monies as part of the household income. When it affects the bottom line, people tend to do whatever it takes to keep that person with them and the money coming in.

  5. Thomas C. Wood In Salem, NH says:

    My own feelings, as an Autistic with Cerebral Palsy, is that these “unrepentant” scum should get the Death Penalty for murdering 2 of our fellow developmentally disabled.
    The perpetrators deserve “no mercy whatsoever”.

  6. Judy says:

    My relative will go off with anyone if promised something and we have become so over protective as she was taken several times to be a babysitter for children. She thought these people were her friends and being nice because they would take her out once in awhile. Luckily this horrible situation never occurred and people think we are too controlling because we want to know everyone she hangs out with. Even with guardianship people question what we are doing. They have no idea how easily they can be manipulated and how many nasty predators are out there with many different motivations, not just the social security check.

  7. Marge says:

    There is no punishment harsh enough for the people who did this. This is the kind of thing that scares me about fostering independence. Our loved ones have “victim” written all over them. We need to have strong networks to keep tabs on vulnerable people in our society.

  8. Karen says:

    I have to wonder if this is why people with higher functioning forms of disabilities rarely say anything because of things like this. I was always taught to not really talk about it and that i could do the same things as everyone else. It just makes me wonder if a lot of people dont find thier diagnosis because of things like this. Very sad.

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