— -- A Philadelphia woman was sentenced today to 80 years in prison for kidnapping mentally disabled people, keeping them prisoner in her basement, and starving at least two of them to death. Prosecutors said the woman and her cohorts drugged, beat and abused their captives, and forced them to sign over their Social Security disability checks and state benefits.
Linda Weston, 55, pleaded guilty to all charges today in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Four people were found being held captive in her small Philadelphia basement when she was arrested in October 2011, authorities said, noting that one of the captives was Weston’s own 19-year-old niece, Beatrice, who was found malnourished and suffering from cuts and wounds. At least six disabled adults and four children were victimized, authorities said, and two of the adults died while in captivity.
According to court documents, Weston targeted mentally challenged people who were estranged from their families, first befriending them and offering them a place to stay. Once the victims moved in, Weston and two co-conspirators confined them to locked rooms, basements, closets, attics and apartments, prosecutors said. While confined, the captives were often isolated in the dark and sedated with drugs that Weston and other defendants placed in their food and drink, prosecutors said. If the prisoners protested, Weston and two other would punish 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 said.
When Philadelphia police first uncovered the plot, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey called it “pure evil.”
Prosecutors said Weston was the ringleader, and ran her scheme from 2001 to 2011 in Florida, Virginia and Philadelphia -- moving on to another state after one of her prisoners died from starvation or abuse.
Court documents detailed the stories of two victims: Donna Spadea was limited to a substandard diet and prohibited from using the bathroom in the Philadelphia home, where Weston held her captive. On June 26, 2005, she was found dead in the home’s basement, authorities said, but Weston moved her body to another part of the house before calling police. Another victim, Maxine Lee, was kept in a kitchen cabinet and confined to an attic for several months before she succumbed to bacterial meningitis and starvation in November 2008, prosecutors said.
Weston’s long list of crimes are reflected in the charges she pleaded guilty to today -- racketeering conspiracy, kidnapping resulting in the death of the victim, forced human labor, involuntary servitude, multiple counts of murder in aid of racketeering, hate crime, violent crime in aid of racketeering, sex trafficking, kidnapping, theft of government funds, wire fraud, mail fraud, use of a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime and false statements.
In addition to the 80 year prison term, U.S. District Court Judge Cynthia M. Rufe of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ordered Weston to pay restitution of $273,463 to the Social Security Administration and a $19,600 special assessment.