It was one of the most disturbing cases in recent Philadelphia history, sparked by a horrifying discovery in 2011. Four mentally disabled adults were found chained to a boiler in the basement of a Tacony rowhome. Later dubbed the Tacony dungeon, authorities discovered that the location was used to imprison mentally disabled adults while their captors pocketed their disability benefit checks.
On Tuesday, Jean McIntosh, 38, the daughter of previously sentenced mastermind Linda Ann Weston, was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to her role in the Tacony Dungeon scheme.
Not only were multiple disabled adults shuttled back and forth across state lines to elude authorities, federal prosecutors said, but they were tortured and starved while kept prisoner in the Tacony Dungeon, and two people died while imprisoned as a result of their mistreatment.
“It is hard to fathom this kind of disregard for the dignity of human life,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William T. McSwain said in a statement. “The stomach-turning details of this case and unspeakable acts of cruelty McIntosh inflicted on her helpless victims serve as a stark reminder that pure evil does exist in the world. My sincere hope is that today’s sentence brings some measure of closure to the victims and their families.”
Weston previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison plus 80 years for operating the dungeon scam from 2001 to 2011, during the course of which two individuals, Donna Spadea and Maxine Lee, died from maltreatment.
Weston, McIntosh, Gregory Thomas, Eddie Wright and Nicklaus Woodward were all charged with hate crimes in a 196-count indictment for targeting the mentally disabled.
Federal prosecutors said the criminal organization that they dubbed “the Weston family” targeted disabled adults living alone and offered them a home or lured them with the promise of romantic relationships.
But victims were instead were confined in basements, closets, attics and other locked rooms; starved, tortured and beaten, sedated with drugs, and moved between locations in Virginia, Texas, Florida and eventually Philadelphia. Weston and McIntosh allegedly collected the victims’ Social Security checks and state benefits in some cases. The victims were forced to sign paperwork designating Linda Weston as their benefits payee.
“This case remains the most appalling example of Social Security representative payee fraud and abuse the Office of the Inspector General [OIG] has encountered,” Michael McGill, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Social Security Administration OIG Philadelphia Field Division said in a statement. “Justice has been served with this significant sentence.”
History of the Tacony Dungeon
At the time of the Tacony dungeon’s discovery by authorities, who were responding to complaints of suspicious activity, several adults and juveniles – including two of McIntosh’s children – were discovered living in disturbing conditions in the home.
One victim was Beatrice Weston, Linda Weston’s niece, who was placed in her custody by child welfare authorities at the age of 10, due to unspecified medical problems suffered by her birth mother.
Beatrice told authorities that as a minor, Linda Weston allegedly prostituted her in Texas, and claimed she was beaten regularly as well as imprisoned for long periods in a closet too small for her to sit down.
Weston had previously been sentenced to about eight years in prison for imprisoning her sister’s boyfriend in the 1980s and starving him to death, but that didn’t stop her from getting custody of Beatrice from child welfare authorities.
Other victims of the scam were allegedly kept sedated with drugs in their food. When food ran out, they were forced to eat their own waste. One female victim gave birth while imprisoned, which baby Weston and McIntosh claimed on paperwork was McIntosh’s child, then applied for Social Security benefits for the child based on its developmental disabilities.
Over the course of a decade, the group stole an estimated $200,000 in Social Security benefits from the captives.
Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division, called McIntosh and Weston’s actions “monstrous.”
“With money as their motive, they used and abused some of society’s most vulnerable. The torture inflicted upon their victims is unthinkable; the pain and the fear they caused, incalculable,” Harpster said. “Right now, my thoughts are with all who suffered at their hands—the survivors, as well as those who lost their lives.”