The suspected ringleader of an alleged Social Security fraud scheme in which police say mentally disabled people were held captive in a basement may not completely understand the seriousness of the charges against her, her lawyer said Monday.
Linda Ann Weston, 51, along with her boyfriend, Gregory Thomas, 47, and Eddie "the Rev. Ed" Wright, 50, are charged with kidnapping, assault, false imprisonment and other counts. At a brief initial court appearance Monday, Municipal Judge Felice Rowley Stack scheduled a preliminary hearing for Dec. 19.
The suspects, all of whom are in custody and from Philadelphia, did not appear in court. A fourth person, Weston's daughter, Jean McIntosh, 32, is also charged and has a hearing scheduled for Wednesday. None of the suspects have entered pleas.
George S. Yacoubian Jr., a lawyer for Weston, said after the hearing that he has met with her and plans a more comprehensive interview to evaluate her mental state.
He declined to comment on whether she had a history of mental issues, but said a competency examination would be a good idea.
"I don't know if she understands what the allegations are," Yacoubian said outside court, describing his client as "fatigued" and "lethargic." "At this point, I do not think she appreciates the seriousness of the charges."
The victims, who authorities say have the mental capacity of 10-year-olds, were discovered by a landlord at a Philadelphia apartment building on Oct. 15. Police identified them as Derwin McLemire, 41, of North Carolina; Herbert Knowles, 40, of Norfolk, Va.; and Tamara Breeden, 29, and Edwin Sanabria, 31, both of Philadelphia.
They were malnourished, and one, Knowles, was chained to a boiler.
Investigators are working to discover the extent of the alleged scheme after finding more than 50 Social Security cards, power of attorney documents and other such forms. The suspects may have been taking in the downtrodden and disabled for their Social Security checks, then holding them captive in wretched conditions without enough to eat or drink, police say.
Eight children and four young adults linked to the defendants were taken into protective custody, and DNA tests are being conducted to determine the children's identities.
One of the young adults taken into protective custody was a 19-year-old niece, Beatrice Weston, who police said was badly abused and had been left locked in a closet.
Perry de Marco Jr., a lawyer who represents Thomas, said he met with his client for about three hours but still has little information.
"He was extremely worried," de Marco said after the hearing.
Louis D'Onofrio, an attorney for Wright, did not immediately respond to a telephone message after the hearing.
On Sunday, D'Onofrio said that his client would plead not guilty at Monday's hearing; but Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for city prosecutors, said any pleas would not come until after the formal arraignment, which would be after December's preliminary hearing.