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Disabled victimized by theft scheme

Disabled victimized by theft scheme

Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 8:02 pm

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A woman convicted in the starvation death of a man nearly 30 years ago is facing charges of kidnapping and false imprisonment for allegedly preying on four mentally disabled adults, locking them in a basement and wresting control of their Social Security disability checks.
Linda Ann Weston was charged Monday with kidnapping, false imprisonment and other offenses, with bail set at $2.5 million after her landlord stumbled upon the four adults, all weak and malnourished, in a dank, foul smelling boiler room on Saturday.
Also charged were Eddie “the Rev. Ed” Wright, 50, whom Weston described as her boyfriend, and Gregory Thomas, 47.
Detectives also found dozens of ID cards, power-of-attorney forms and other documents in the apartment, suggesting the alleged theft scheme involved more than just the four captives.
In 1983, a 13-year-old Philadelphia boy testified that his older sister had beaten another sister’s boyfriend with a broomstick and locked him in a closet. The man died of starvation weeks later.
Linda Ann Weston was convicted of murder, but it’s not clear from court records how much time she spent in prison.
She’s now behind bars in another heinous scheme that echoes the earlier case.
Weston, now 51, is accused of preying on four mentally disabled adults, and locking them in a basement crawlspace in northeast Philadelphia. A landlord found them Saturday, weak and malnourished.
Police suspect Weston and two others were keeping them in squalor while wresting control of their Social Security checks. One victim said he met Weston through an online dating service.
“That was real dirty of (her). That was wrong,” Derwin McLemire told KWY-TV on Monday. “I escaped one time to one of the house that we used to live in, of hers, and I didn’t get away so they got me.”
He and two others told the station they had been on the move for about a year with their alleged captors, traveling from Texas to Florida to Philadelphia.
“They moved them around,” Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said Monday after examining the boiler room-turned-dungeon inside a small apartment house. “Whenever it looked like people knew what was going on, they moved.”
The landlord found the victims Saturday morning after he heard dogs barking in the area. He found the door to the foul-smelling room chained shut. Inside, Turgut Gozleveli lifted a pile of blankets to find several sets of eyes staring back at him. One man was chained to the boiler.
Philadelphia police soon arrested Weston at her daughter’s apartment upstairs, along with two other men.
“Without a doubt. This is just the beginning of this investigation,” Lt. Ray Evers said Monday. “She’s been out of jail for a period of time, and we think she’s being doing this for quite some time.”
Exactly how long, how much money the scheme brought in, precisely how the disabled were deceived, and how many people in all were victimized are still unclear, investigators said. The FBI has joined the investigation.
“Talk about preying on the weak and weary,” Evers said.
A Florida girl missing since July 4 from West Palm Beach, where neighbors said the group had come from earlier this month, was also located by Philadelphia police. The mother of 15-year-old Benita Rodriguez told WPTV-TV her daughter had been friends with Thomas’ son. Rodriguez was not in the basement with the adults and it wasn’t clear how she connects to the case.
As of Monday, the defendants did not appear to have lawyers.
The victims, a woman and three men, were found in a crawlspace that reeked of urine and was too shallow for an adult to stand up. There were mattresses and blankets, but the only food found was a container of orange juice. The adults shared their space with three dogs.
Gozleveli called police, suspecting they were squatters, then watched as officers and ambulance workers helped them up the steps to the street in a working-class section of the city’s Tacony neighborhood.
The victims, ages 29 to 41, had the mental capacity of 10-year-olds, along with some physical disabilities, authorities said. One could barely see.
Neighbors said the defendants and their alleged captives had arrived in an SUV from West Palm Beach about two weeks ago, though it does not appear the victims spent the entire time in the basement.
Danyell “Nicky” Tisdale, a block captain in the neighborhood, said that about a week ago, a man and woman and four mentally disabled adults held a yard sale, selling piles of shoes, jackets and other clothing on the sidewalk.
Since the arrests, police have slowly and patiently been trying to elicit information from the alleged captives. All four were treated at hospitals and placed with social service agencies.

Published in The Messenger 10.18.11

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