Four charged with kidnap and conspiracy in US


US AUTHORITIES are attempting to locate up to 50 victims of a criminal gang that kidnapped mentally handicapped people and stole their benefits cheques, in an investigation stretching from Texas to Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

A fourth person was arrested in the case yesterday. She is Jean McIntosh (32), the daughter of the accused ringleader of the gang, Linda Ann Weston (50). An FBI official said that gang members may be prosecuted under recent legislation that expanded the definition of hate crimes. The four have been charged with false imprisonment, kidnapping and conspiracy.

On October 15th, Turgut Gozleveli, the Turkish-born owner of an apartment building in northeast Philadelphia, broke into the basement after he heard dogs barking inside. The door had been chained shut. In the filthy, 10ft by 15ft room, Mr Gozleveli lifted a blanket to see four pairs of eyes staring up at him. He used a hacksaw to free one man who was chained to the boiler.

“They were tired, beat-up looking, thirsty and hungry,” Mr Gozleveli told the New York Times. “They didn’t know what world they were living in.”

The four malnourished victims, all of whom suffered from mental disabilities, were taken to hospital. They have been identified as Derwin McLemire (41), from North Carolina; Herbert Knowles (40), from Virginia, Tamara Breeden (29) and Edwin Sanabria, (31), both from Philadelphia. “Linda brought us here,” Ms Breeden said when they were discovered by Mr Gozleveli.

Mr McLemire reportedly met Ms Weston through an online dating service. She was arrested and charged on October 16th, along with her boyfriend, Gregory Thomas (47) and Eddie Wright, (49), who called himself a “reverend”. Both men had been charged with burglary in West Palm Beach Florida.

Ms Weston, the two men, their four prisoners and a number of children and young adults are believed to have travelled from Florida in August, when they were evicted from a house there.

Ms Weston was apparently able to cash social security cheques sent to the victims, despite a law prohibiting convicted criminals from acting as payees. Ms Weston spent eight years in prison for murder after she was convicted of beating a man who impregnated her sister, then starving him to death in a closet in 1984.

Acting on a tip from police in Florida, Philadelphia police rounded up six children and four young adults, aged two to 19, on Tuesday. All are believed to have been under the control of Ms Weston. One of the 10, Beatrice Weston (19), is Weston’s niece and had been missing for two years. A police officer told local television that Beatrice “is in very, very poor condition. She has lost a lot of weight.”

Police believe two of the children may be the offspring of the mentally handicapped adults who were imprisoned in the basement. Ms McIntosh rented the apartment above the dungeon, to which she had the key. When police searched the apartment, they found dozens of Social Security and identity cards and power of attorney documents.