The Justice Department has brought hate crimes charges against five alleged co-conspirators who, officials say, imprisoned people with disabilities in order to steal their Social Security disability payments. The alleged victims were moved between Texas, Virginia and Florida before being discovered in a locked Philadelphia basement in 2011.
The government accuses Linda Ann Weston, her daughter and three others of devising an elaborate plot to manipulate their alleged victims into turning over their federal disability benefits. According to the 196-count indictment, Weston and the others forced some of the alleged victims into prostitution. Two of the alleged victims died while in Weston's custody, one of meningitis and one of starvation. If convicted, some of the defendants could face the death penalty.
The case marks the first time that the federal government has brought hate crimes charges against defendants who are alleged to have harmed people with disabilities since the federal hate crimes statute was amended in 2009 to include crimes committed against a person based on his gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. In addition to the federal hate crimes statute, 30 states and the District of Colombia have bias crimes statutes that protect people with disabilities, according to Human Rights First.Article Last Modified: 02/18/2013
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