* She had scammed at least $7,500 a month - or roughly $90,000 a year - in Supplemental Security Income on behalf of herself and at least 11 others, including four mentally disabled people that she allegedly imprisoned, with little food and no bathroom, in a dark boiler room in a Tacony apartment building.
* When one of Weston's alleged victims - Tamara Breeden - got pregnant twice while in captivity, Weston had Breeden check herself into the hospital as "Linda A. Weston" so that Weston could later pose as the "birth mother" and collect SSI benefits on behalf of Breeden's babies, according to a police document.
* After Philadelphia police and the city's Department of Human Services received a 2009 report that Weston's teen niece, Beatrice, was locked in a basement without food, Weston - who had custody - concocted a story that Beatrice had run off with a boyfriend. She even filed a missing-person report with police on March 17, 2009.
* Weston garnered medical equipment, like wheelchairs and walking canes, presumably on behalf of the disabled people in her charge, and then organized yard sales to sell the items.
Even so, Weston's defense attorney contends that she suffers from "mental retardation."
"Her mental status has been confirmed, and that's why she was receiving disability benefits," said Weston's attorney, George Yacoubian.
"She's been receiving benefits for decades, and some sort of government entity authorized it. She had to document that to someone's satisfaction."
Authorities are trying to determine how Weston managed to navigate complex and arcane social-service agencies while at the same time operating off the grid.
"What's shocking is, she was apparently able to be visible in the community and people knew something was amiss, yet she was able to remain undetected," said Mark Riordan, spokesman for the Department of Children and Families, in Florida, where Weston lived in 2010 and earlier this year. "This family or this woman was good at flying under the radar."
Weston often didn't enroll her children in public schools, instead choosing private, non-licensed religious schools. She leased apartments or homes in other people's names. And she skipped town whenever authorities began to ask questions.
She stayed one step ahead of parole officers, police, landlords, social workers and Social Security administrators, moving from state to state and creating a labyrinth of old addresses that made her hard to track.
Each agency had a piece of a puzzle, but none put the pieces together until Oct. 15, when the landlord of the Tacony apartment building discovered the four alleged victims locked inside a grimy boiler room.
Police later found Weston's 19-year-old niece, Beatrice, in a separate location. The teen had endured beatings and torture so severe that police said they were amazed that she survived.
Police arrested Weston, 52, and three others: Weston's longtime boyfriend, Gregory Thomas, 48; Eddie Wright, 50; and Weston's daughter, Jean McIntosh, 32. Prosecutors have charged them with kidnapping and related offenses.
In Weston's "personal belongings," police said, they found documents, including Social Security cards and power-of-attorney forms, for about 50 people.
Convicted of murder
In the 1980s, Weston served four years in prison for locking her sister's boyfriend in a closet and starving him to death in 1981. She was released in 1987.
Under federal law, convicted felons are barred from collecting SSI checks on behalf of a disabled person.
But that didn't stop Weston.
Weston was the "representative payee" - the person designated to collect Social Security benefits on behalf of people incapable of managing their money - for the four mentally disabled people rescued from the Tacony dungeon.
A person who is elderly, blind or disabled can receive up to $674 a month in SSI from the federal government, though some states boost that amount by providing additional money.
Weston was required to fill out a 10-page application to become a representative payee. She answered "no" to the question, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" SSI administrators never checked to see if that was true.
"While egregious situations like this one are rare, we are aggressively evaluating lessons learned to decide what more we can do," Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue wrote in a Nov. 16 letter to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.
Astrue wrote that the agency wasn't aware of Weston's prior felony conviction because its prison records are "incomplete" and the administration does not have access to the FBI's National Crime Information Center database.
Casey is working to craft legislation that will provide the Social Security Administration with resources, including more fraud investigators, to conduct criminal-background checks. The bill would also allow the agency to access the FBI's crime database.
"I can't understand why the federal government hasn't long ago used existing databases . . . that would flag something as outrageous and obvious and disturbing as a conviction for a homicide," Casey said during a press conference yesterday at 30th Street Station.
Casey said that the Weston case "undermines people's confidence in a major agency."Among her other schemes, Weston allegedly arranged to collect SSI benefits on behalf of Tamara Breeden's two children.
When Breeden was "admitted to medical facilities" to give birth, according to a police document, she "presented herself to physicians and their staff as Linda A. Weston . . . .[Weston] is believed to have subsequently presented herself as the 'birth mother' of the two aforementioned children. As the 'birth mother' of the two children, [Weston] is also believed to have received monetary benefits [SSI]."
Weston named one of Breeden's children after herself, calling her "Linda Weston Jr.," with a nickname "Little L." At one point, Weston received an SSI check for Little L at an address in Killeen, Texas, according to a source close to the case.
Under SSI rules, a parent can collect SSI on behalf of a physically or mentally disabled child, including an infant with low birth weight or HIV. Weston, a mother of eight, also collected SSI on behalf of Beatrice and six children, including three of her own, according to sources familiar with the case.
Weston also pocketed nearly $3,000 in SSI benefits on behalf of Maxine Lee, a 39-year-old Virginia woman who had died of acute bacterial meningitis.
Lee was found dead Nov. 13, 2008, in a house that she shared with Weston and two other women in Norfolk.
It was unclear how or whether any of Weston's charges genuinely qualified for SSI payments.
Weston, who served as Lee's representative payee, never reported her death to Social Security.
"As a result, Ms. Weston was continuing to receive the deceased payee's benefits," the SSA's Office of Inspector General confirmed in a statement.
In 2009, the OIG launched an investigation into Weston after learning of Lee's death. The OIG sought to question Weston but couldn't locate her. She soon resurfaced in Philadelphia.
After the OIG questioned Weston in Philadelphia, she paid back the money and the investigation was closed.
Where is Beatrice?
In March of 2009, Philadelphia police and social workers received a disturbing report that Weston had Beatrice locked in the basement of a house on Margaret Street near Tackawanna, in Frankford.
The caller said that Beatrice's hair was falling out and that there was no food in the house, according to a source close to the case.
Yet, Weston and her daughter, Jean McIntosh, dodged and lied to authorities, and the basement was never inspected.
This is what happened, according to a source close to the case:
A DHS worker and an officer with the Special Victims Unit went to the Margaret Street house immediately, but no one was home. They waited three hours.
After days of looking for Weston, the DHS worker finally smoked her out by theatening to cut off the SSI benefits if Weston didn't produce her children and niece.
Weston and McIntosh decided to tell the worker that McIntosh, not Weston, cared for all the children. McIntosh then orchestrated a conference call with the DHS worker and the principal of Crooked Places Made Straight Christian Academy. The principal assured the DHS worker that Weston's children attended her school, on 50th Street near Baltimore Avenue, and that they were good students.
Weston and McIntosh agreed to meet the DHS worker not at Margaret Street, but at McIntosh's West Philly high-rise apartment.
Weston told the social worker that Beatrice had run off with her boyfriend about a month and a half earlier. Weston even filed a missing person report.
The worker interviewed Weston's and McIntosh's children. They all backed up Weston's story about Beatrice, including details that the boyfriend's name was Tony and that he drove a black Buick and lived in New Jersey.
Still, the social worker was worried about Beatrice. She asked police if they could get into Margaret Street to check the basement. A police supervisor concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to obtain a search warrant.
On March 31, 2009, the social worker made a final visit to McIntosh's West Philly apartment and found all the children to be safe. The case was closed.
Almost everywhere Weston lived, neighbors called police to complain about her.
They typically groused about things that, taken alone, didn't add up to much, but when viewed together, through the lens of hindsight, formed a troubling picture.
Residents in Lansdale, Montgomery County, called police in 2006 when they saw Weston and Gregory Thomas sifting through other people's trash in an alley near a home they had rented. When police questioned them, Weston and Thomas said that they were looking for "things they could use," according to an Oct. 22, 2006 police report.
In October 2010, Weston, Gregory and Wright moved to a blighted section of West Palm Beach, Florida. Landlord Jeff Rouse said that he rented his house and adjoining apartment to Weston, who told him that she had seven children with her, three of whom were handicapped.
Weston, he said, told him that she was receiving $4,500 a month to care for the disabled in her charge, yet it was later found that the family illegally hooked into the city's water supply.
Rouse moved to evict them June 8 of this year because they failed to pay rent for several months. Before they disappeared, they stripped the house of copper wiring and appliances. They stole the refrigerator, stove, French doors, dishwasher, windows and doors. "Even the door knobs," Rouse said.
He filed a police report, but the Weston family moved to another house less than a mile away.
"I always heard fighting over there," said neighbor Vernica Clarke, 48. "You could hear them ladies cry, 'I don't want to do it. I don't want to do it.' You could hear the window shaking. After that, one of the women walked out with a black eye."
Clarke, however, didn't report the abuse to police. "To tell you the truth, I'm scared of police," she said.
Instead, neighbors made innocuous complaints. They told police they saw a bevy of adults and children coming and going from the house and griped that Weston held huge backyard flea-market-like sales, with so many chairs and tables that they wondered where they had found them.
"She sold wheelchairs, walking canes, clothes, a lot of everything," Clarke said.
"The calls were all garden-variety, small code violations," West Palm Beach city spokesman Chase Scott said.
"They were nothing complaints."
Mark Riordan, spokesman for the Florida Department of Children and Families, said that the agency hadn't received any report of abuse or neglect regarding the Weston family.
"No one in law enforcement or child welfare can prevent something from happening that they don't know about," Riordan said. "She clearly benefited from that."
A dog did them in
In crime-ridden urban neighborhoods, where police and social workers are often overwhelmed and residents are afraid to get involved, the Weston household came off as more nuisance than criminal enterprise.
It was only by accident that Philadelphia police finally nabbed her.
The sound of a dog yapping on a Saturday morning in October drew the landlord of Weston's Tacony apartment to a chained-locked door leading to an abandoned boiler room in the sub-basement.
The landlord unraveled the chains and opened the door. In the dark, with the light from his flashlight, he saw two little dogs, blankets, pillows and makeshift mattresses.
He pulled up one blanket and was stunned to see the faces of a man and a woman staring back at him.
He closed the door and called police.
- Staff Writer Julie Shaw
contributed to this story.