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Philly police form task force to investigate theft scheme

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Philadelphia police are forming a task force to look into the case of four mentally disabled adults who were locked in a basement in a suspected scheme to wrest control of their Social Security benefits.

Detectives found dozens of identification cards, power-of-attorney forms and other documents. Officer Jillian Russell says that a task force has been formed and that authorities are trying to find as many as 50 more possible victims.

Linda Ann Weston was charged Monday with kidnapping, false imprisonment and other offenses after her landlord stumbled upon the four malnourished adults in a dank boiler room Saturday.

Weston's bail was set at $2.5 million. Also charged were Eddie "the Rev. Ed" Wright, 50, whom Weston described as her boyfriend, and Gregory Thomas, 47.

Detectives 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.

Weston has a criminal record. In 1983, a 13-year-old Philadelphia boy testified that Weston, his older sister, had beaten another sister's boyfriend with a broomstick and imprisoned him in a closet in 1981 after the man said he would not support the sister's unborn child. The man died of starvation weeks later.

After initially being ruled incompetent to stand trial, Weston began serving time in state prison on a third-degree murder charge on June 7, 1985. She was paroled on Jan. 15, 1987, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

She's now behind bars in another heinous scheme that echoes the earlier case.

Police identified the victims as Derwin McLemire, 41, of Florida; Herbert Knowles, 40 of Virginia; and two Philadelphia residents, 29-year-old Tamara Breeden and 31-year-old Edwin Sanabria.

Police suspect Weston, 51, and the other suspects were keeping them in squalor while taking their Social Security checks. One victim said he met Weston through an online dating service.

"That was real dirty of (her). That was wrong," McLemire told KWY-TV on Monday. "I escaped one time to one of the houses 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."

Landlord Turgut Gozleveli discovered the victims Saturday morning after he heard dogs barking in the area. The door to the basement room was chained shut, but Gozleveli managed to get inside, lifting a pile of blankets to find several sets of eyes staring back at him. One man was chained to the boiler.

The crawlspace reeked of urine and was too shallow for an adult to stand up. There were mattresses, blankets, buckets for using the bathroom, and 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 had the mental capacity of 10-year-olds, along with some physical disabilities, authorities said. One could barely see.

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