Feds take over Tacony ‘dungeon’ case; commonwealth withdraws charges

By Jon Campisi | Jan 30, 2013

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced this week that the

commonwealth was withdrawing all charges against Linda Weston, her daughter and others after federal prosecutors unsealed a 196-count indictment against the crew, who made national headlines for holding people captive in a Northeast Philadelphia basement in order to steal their Social Security checks.

Williams, whose office has been building a case against the group of people for about a year, said in a statement that the commonwealth has no need to continue its local case against Weston, Jean McIntosh, Gregory Thomas and Eddie Wright after the federal government announced its indictment.

“It is our hope all of these defendants get the maximum punishment for the years of torture they inflicted on their victims, and the best place for that to happen is in Federal Court,” Williams said in his statement.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced in a Jan. 23 news release that the four defendants originally charged by Pennsylvania authorities, along with a fifth man, Nicklaus Woodard, were charged in the massive indictment with racketeering conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, hate crimes, sex trafficking, kidnapping, forced human labor, theft, fraud and other violent crimes for their combined role in what the feds have termed a “racketeering enterprise” that targeted mentally disabled victims as part of a scheme to steal their disability payments from the federal government.

The case made headlines the country over for its horrific nature; Philadelphia police discovered a grisly scene in the basement of a city apartment building in October 2011 that was soon dubbed a ‘House of Horrors,’ or ‘dungeon.’

The indictment charges that the defendants practiced what is described as “abusive control and confinement techniques, in which they kept their victims confined to locked basements, rooms, closets, attics and apartments; sedated the victims by placing drugs in their food and beverages; subdued the victims by serving them a low calorie and high starch diet; and punished the victims by physically abusing them with fists and items such as belts, sticks, bats, hammers and other objects.

Two of the victims died because of their injuries and malnourishment.

Weston, who is accused of being the ringleader, is also charged with forcing two female captives to engage in prostitution while the alleged enterprise operated in Killeen, Trxas and West Palm Beach, Fla.

The federal authorities got involved because of the interstate nature of the crime ring.

“The physically and mentally disabled are among the most vulnerable in our society,” U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said in a statement. “They deserve to be treated with respect and compassion, not violence. 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.”

Memeger said “shocking” doesn’t even begin to describe a case like this, where victims were tied up and confined like “zoo animals and treated like property akin to slaves.”

John Brosnan, the FBI’s special agent-in-charge, said in a statement that the federal indictment represents another step toward closure and healing for the victims and the community as a whole.

“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 defendants in the case are also being charged in four counts of the indictment for violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which criminalizes certain acts of physical violence causing bodily harm motivated by someone’s actual or perceived disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.

Weston was the supposed ringleader of the organization, which started as early as the fall of 2001 and ended a decade later only after Philadelphia police officers descended into the basement of the apartment building in the city’s Tacony neighborhood after being sent out on a call to the area.

The others charged in the indictment are McIntosh, Weston’s daughter; Weston’s supposed paramour Thomas Wright, who was the one allegedly in charge of confining, controlling, housing and transporting the victims; and Woodard, who is charged with assisting Wright in confining, controlling and disciplining the victims.

The defendants allegedly moved the victims from state to state throughout the years, settling at various times in Texas, Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania, where they were eventually caught.

As part of the scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Weston persuaded each victim to make her the designated recipient of their Social Security disability payments in exchange for the promise of a comfortable place to live.

Each of the defendants in the federal case could face up to life in prison if convicted, while Weston faces the possibility of the death penalty, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The so-called Tacony “dungeon” case also lead to a civil suit filed against Weston and the City of Philadelphia.

The Pennsylvania Record previously reported that this past August, attorneys with the Philadelphia firm Kline & Specter filed suit on behalf of Beatrice Weston, Linda Weston’s grown niece who accuses the city of improperly placing her in her aunt’s care earlier last decade when she was still a minor.

Beatrice Weston asserts in her lawsuit, which was initially filed at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and subsequently removed to the U.S. District Court, that a city social worker recommended that the young woman be placed in Linda Weston’s care despite Linda Weston’s “violent and disqualifying criminal history.”

The complaint states that based on the recommendation of the city, a Family Court judge in Philadelphia entered an order providing temporary legal custody of Beatrice Weston to Linda Weston.

Beatrice Weston was eventually discovered among the other captives held in the Tacony apartment building basement.

The lawsuit accuses Linda Weston and the city of various counts of civil rights violations, assault and battery and false imprisonment.

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