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Woman pleads guilty in Tacony dungeon case

A woman charged alongside her mother in a decadelong, cross-county plot to kidnap mentally disabled adults, enslave them, and steal their government benefit checks pleaded guilty this week, all but ensuring that she will face a lifetime behind bars.

Jean McIntosh.
Jean McIntosh.Read more

A woman charged alongside her mother in a decadelong, cross-county plot to kidnap mentally disabled adults, enslave them, and steal their government benefit checks pleaded guilty this week, all but ensuring that she will face a lifetime behind bars.

Jean McIntosh's admission of guilt was the first in a case as notable for its stomach-churning details as for the lingering question of whether prosecutors will press for a rare federal death sentence for its lead defendant - McIntosh's mother, Linda Weston.

Government lawyers have waited for nearly two years for Justice Department approval on Weston's fate, bringing to a halt a case that shocked the city in 2011.

That changed Monday, with McIntosh's plea at an unannounced hearing to every count lodged against her, including racketeering, kidnapping, fraud, involuntary servitude, and hate crimes.

"She committed multiple horrific acts," said Steven Wigrizer, a lawyer representing one of McIntosh's victims. "She knew exactly what she was doing and did it without hesitation."

According to court filings made public Tuesday, McIntosh, 34, told U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe that she helped her mother lure, confine, and control the victims while making money off them in any way they could.

Together, the documents say, they stole more than $200,000 in Social Security benefits from their captives by pressuring them to sign documents naming Weston or McIntosh their designated payees.

They forced others, including Weston's 17-year-old niece, into prostitution. And to keep costs of care low, they locked their wards in basements, attics, cupboards, and closets, and fed them depressant-spiked beans and Ramen noodles. Sometimes they fed them their own feces and urine.

McIntosh and her mother shuttled their captives from Philadelphia to Texas, Virginia, and Florida, and back again, in the hope of avoiding detection, and left in their wake the bodies of those who did not survive malnourishment and beatings with sticks, bats, guns, and hammers, McIntosh told the judge.

All the while, prosecutors said, they continued to add victims to their menagerie, including relatives, children they forced their captives to have together, and random targets they met on the streets.

Authorities rescued four of the family's captives in October 2011 after discovering them emaciated, covered in filth, and chained in a basement of McIntosh's apartment in the Tacony section of the city.

While McIntosh's plea agreement Tuesday laid bare the conditions endured by her victims, the details surrounding her deal with prosecutors remained hazy.

Her lawyer did not return calls seeking comment. Rufe sealed all transcripts and recordings of the hearing. And prosecutors declined to say whether McIntosh had agreed to cooperate against Weston and her codefendants.

Weston, her boyfriend Gregory Thomas Sr.; and two other men stand charged in a 196-count indictment on charges of fraud, hate crimes, kidnapping and involuntary servitude.

Weston also faces two additional counts of murder, the first involving the 2005 death of a woman who lived for two months in a cramped five-foot enclosure next to a washing machine in Weston's basement.

The second centers on Maxine Lee, a woman Weston allegedly lured to live with the family in Norfolk, Va., after the two met on a party line. After years of beatings, malnourishment, and life constrained to a locked attic with only fiberglass insulation to sleep on, Lee succumbed to untreated bacterial meningitis in 2008 and, prosecutors allege, Weston tried to cover up the circumstances.

As for McIntosh, prosecutors have described her as "her mother's right-hand woman" and a coleader of the family's crimes. Court documents paint a portrait of a daughter who acted callously and without hesitation after Lee's death in 2008.

Documents suggest the incident shook Weston enough for her to decide to pack up her wards and leave Virginia. McIntosh, according to her plea memorandum, drove down from Philadelphia and packed their captives in the trunk of her car, shoved in under the family's luggage.

When two of the family's captives had a son together, McIntosh took the child's mother, Tamara Breeden, to the hospital and forced her to sign the birth certificate with McIntosh's name. McIntosh used that document to later claim Social Security benefits paid for the child's care.

Under the terms of her plea, McIntosh faces a mandatory minimum life sentence - a punishment that Wigrizer said was the only reasonable outcome to her case.

Last month, he won a $45 million civil judgment against Weston, Thomas, and a third defendant on Breeden's behalf.

"Clearly, she's a psychopath and a sociopath," he said Tuesday of McIntosh. "There's no place for individuals like her and her mother on the streets."