Hate Crime Charges For Treating Disabled “Like Zoo Animals”
A Philadelphia woman, Linda Weston, and four others including her daughter, Jean McIntosh, have been charged with hate crimes and racketeering for allegedly enslaving at least four adults with developmental and mental disabilities to steal their Social Security benefit checks. A 196-count indictment charges that Weston was at the center of a “decade-long enterprise that targeted the most vulnerable of victims for alleged kidnapping, torture, sex-trafficking, and fraud.”
Weston allegedly took more than $212,000 in social security benefits from the victims over the course of a decade. 140 of the charges brought against her are fraud counts for allegedly stealing and cashing benefit checks and prosecutors have also added hate crime and murder charges which could lead to her facing the death penalty. The other defendants face up to life in prison.
Weston befriended her victims before luring them into captivity. Some were forced into prostitution and all had been starved, beaten and kept in chains when they were found locked in a Tacony basement in 2011. The full extent of what the victims endured was not revealed when police first discovered them. A year-long probe has revealed “stomach-turning details” of how they were “tied up and confined like zoo animals and treated like property akin to slaves,” as U.S. Zane David Memeger says. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer,
Weston and her associates starved and drugged [one] woman, previously identified as Maxine Lee, the indictment says, and routinely beat her with bats and sticks as they shuttled her and others from state to state to avoid detection and keep collecting disability checks.
In 2008, her captors allegedly stuffed Lee, then 39, into a cabinet under a kitchen sink in their Norfolk, Va., apartment. After Lee broke the cabinet door, Weston forced her to strip and locked her in the attic, where Lee slept naked on fiberglass insulation and was rarely fed, prosecutors said.
Malnourished and suffering from bacterial meningitis, Lee died in the apartment in November 2008. Weston then allegedly directed the others to move the body to a clean bedroom and arrange the scene to make it appear to police that Lee died naturally in bed.
As a parent of an autistic teenage son, I feel queasy reading about the alleged abuses committed by Weston and the others. But the horrific story also motivates me even more to advocate for programs, services and staff who can help and protect my son when my husband and I are no longer able to do so.
The hate crimes charges against Weston are the first made under the 2009 Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act for alleged crimes on behalf of an individual with mental disabilities. I am hopeful that the indictment against Weston and the others can send a powerful message about how and why we need to ensure that individuals with disabilities are cared for in full recognition of their humanity, dignity and rights as citizens, as human beings.
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