PHILADELPHIA — A judge on Tuesday ordered three defendants to stand trial but dismissed charges against a fourth in a case involving four mentally disabled adults who were found locked in a filthy basement as part of an alleged Social Security fraud scheme.
Judge Patrick Dugan on Tuesday ordered trial for 51-year-old Linda Ann Weston, the alleged ringleader, on charges that she ran a brutal scheme to exploit the mentally infirm for money and government benefits. He ruled there was enough evidence for her daughter, Jean McIntosh, and her boyfriend, Gregory Thomas, to stand trial as well.
Dugan, however, dismissed charges against Eddie Wright, citing testimony that Wright was sometimes held captive as well. Wright's attorney had argued that his client was a victim, not a perpetrator.
"I cannot in good conscience hold Mr. Wright for trial," Dugan said.
The four were arrested Oct. 15, the day a landlord said he stumbled upon four adults living in a squalid basement room. One was chained to the boiler. The charges include kidnapping, aggravated assault, custodial interference, theft by deception and neglect of a care-dependent person.
"What we heard is something similar to a real life horror movie," Dugan said, comparing the victims to something between people who were just out of a concentration camp and "old-beaten-up boxers."
Testifying earlier at the preliminary hearing, Weston's 20-year-old niece, Beatrice Weston, said that her aunt had forced her had forced her into prostitution and also alleged physical abuse and taunting at the hands of Weston and McIntosh.
Beatrice told the court she was forced to have sex with men her aunt brought home. She said one of the four adults who authorities say were imprisoned in the basement also was forced into prostitution.
"She would make us do it at the same time," Beatrice said of McIntosh, adding that the money was given to Weston.
Beatrice Weston said that McIntosh padlocked her in a closet inside an apartment that was above the basement where police found adults behind a chained door.
A landlord said he stumbled upon the four: Breeden, 29; Edwin Sanabria, 31; Drwin McLemire, 41, of North Carolina; and Herbert Knowles, 40, of Norfolk, Va., in a basement boiler room.
Investigators maintain that Weston moved the group among Philadelphia; Killeen, Texas; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Norfolk, Va., over the past decade. They often were one step ahead of stiffed landlords or the law, according to investigators in Philadelphia.
Each of the victims has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old, authorities have said.
Beatrice said that she was repeatedly locked inside for long periods of time, often with little to eat or drink, and did not know why Weston and McIntosh kept her there.
"I was inside there for a long time," Beatrice testified, adding that she could only tell if it was daytime because of light coming through the cracks around the door.
She said that McIntosh mocked her, saying things such as, "Don't you wish that you was out of that closet taking a hot shower like me?"