Linda Weston, ringleader of a group who imprisoned six disabled adults and four children over a period of years in order to steal their disability and social security checks, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison, reports the Associated Press.
Weston was arrested in 2011 after a landlord discovered four of her victims locked and chained in a dank, filthy boiler room of a home in Philadelphia. She and her four accomplices were charged in 2013. Additionally, Weston was charged with two counts of murder, and potentially faced the death penalty.
Alleged ringleader Linda Weston found the victims in different ways; one was her niece and another was taken from a street corner near a mental health facility. All of the victims were malnourished and some had been trapped in the basement for as long as 11 years; the two deaths were the result of starvation and bacterial meningitis. Several of the victims, who Memeger said had the mental capacity of an average 10-year-old child, were also forced into prostitution. All told, the scam netted the alleged abductors $212,000 over ten years.
Weston pled guilty in September in order to avoid the death penalty. The tally is enormous: 196 counts, including kidnapping, racketeering, murder in aid of racketeering, hate crimes, sex trafficking, and fraud.
The scam involved convincing her victims to designate her as their caretaker, after which they were treated “like ‘zoo animals,’ often in the dark, in basements, attics and closets at various times between 2001 and 2011,” according to the AP report. They were reportedly kept sedated with drugs in their food.
“When the individuals tried to escape, stole food, or otherwise protested their treatment, Weston and others punished them by slapping, punching, kicking, stabbing, burning and hitting them with closed hands, belts, sticks, bats and hammers or other objects, including the butt of a pistol,” prosecutors alleged.
Two of Weston’s accomplices are still awaiting trial, while the other two have also pled guilty. Weston apologized during the hearing, telling the court she believes in God, “and God knows what happened.”