This story by Elaha Izadi first appeared in the Washington Post:
For 10 years, the group targeted mentally disabled people, luring those who were vulnerable and estranged from their families and locking them inside cabinets, basements and attics, according to prosecutors.
The group’s ringleader, Linda Weston, persuaded the victims to allow her to become their representative and began collecting their disability benefits. The victims, prosecutors said, lived in the dark and in isolation, and were fed food laced with drugs to keep them sedated; they were brutally punished if they tried to escape.
On Thursday, a federal judge sentenced Weston, 55, to life in prison — plus 80 years — for her role in the scheme.
Weston had pleaded guilty in September to 196 counts, including murder in aid of racketeering, kidnapping and involuntary servitude. Thursday, she apologized in court.
“I am sorry,” Weston said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I believe in God, and God knows what happened.”
Rufe responded, “There are a lot of people in this courtroom who know what happened, too.”
The case horrified Philadelphia, where in 2011 a landlord discovered four disabled adults locked inside a boiler room, NBC reported. Police rescued them from an apartment building in the Tacony neighborhood. The case was dubbed the “Tacony dungeon” case.
The group ran the operation in three other states, prosecutors said.
Two others — Eddie Wright and Weston’s daughter, Jean McIntosh — have also pleaded guilty; two others are awaiting trial.
In all, six disabled adults and four children were victimized by Weston’s group. Some of the victims made impact statements in court. Other didn’t survive the ordeal.
One female victim died in 2008 of bacterial meningitis and starvation in Virginia after being locked in a kitchen cabinet and attic for months, prosecutors said. Another victim died in 2005 after being kept in a basement with other captives; the victim was fed little food and barred from using the bathroom.
Sometimes, victims were forced to live in attics naked. Mentally disabled adults were fed a diet of Ramen noodles, beans or stew just once a day. Several victims said they were forced to drink their own urine and eat human waste. Some were encouraged to have children in order to collect more benefits.
Some victims were held for years, and the mentally disabled captives were moved around to avoid authorities, prosecutors said.
The group stole more than $200,000 in Social Security benefits from victims, some of whom were forced into prostitution, prosecutors said.
From Matt Gelb, writing at the Philadelphia Inquirer:
They calmly sat in the second row of Courtroom 12A on Thursday, while the 90-minute PowerPoint presentation from hell was played. As gruesome details of the Tacony dungeon master’s scheme were retold, some in the packed room sobbed.
But the four victims of Linda Weston who were there were stoic.
The hearing to sentence Weston, who enslaved and tortured disabled adults so she could steal their benefits checks, was a formality. She pleaded guilty to 196 federal counts in September and accepted a prison term of life plus 80 years.
For the victims, this was one last chance to face their captor. Two testified on video. Two others stood at a lectern that faced U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe.
Said Beatrice Weston, 23, robbed of her childhood because her own aunt beat and prostituted her: “I walk around with scars. Every day, I just think about her beating me. She got what she deserved.”
Drwin McLemire, 46, whose left ankle was chained to a basement boiler around the clock: “I don’t know what they’re going to do to you, but it should be the death penalty.”
Tamara Breeden, 33, starved and forced to drink her own urine for 10 years: “She was just crazy. I was sad and crying.”
As Breeden concluded, the judge stopped her. Something from Breeden’s previously recorded statement, not played Thursday, had stirred her.
“Do you remember how you ended it?” Rufe asked. The victim and judge began to recite it together:
“I’m free. I’m a survivor. I’m a strong black woman.”