Philly cellar chaining evidence points to fraud

A police vehicle is parked in front of a Philadelphia apartment building Oct. 17, 2011, where Gregory Thomas, Linda Ann Weston and Eddie Wright, inset from left to right, allegedly chained four mentally disabled adults in the building's basement.
AP Photo/Philadelphia Police Department

PHILADELPHIA - Dozens of pieces of identification and power of attorney documents have been discovered after a Philadelphia landlord found four mentally disabled adults locked in the squalid basement of his building, a discovery that points toward a wide-ranging fraud scheme, police said Monday.

Investigators are still processing the documents and reaching out to authorities in multiple jurisdictions while they try to find the family of one of the victims rescued Saturday from what police called deplorable conditions, Lt. Ray Evers told The Associated Press.

Evers said Linda Ann Weston is suspected of running a long-standing fraud operation.

"Without a doubt, this is just the beginning of this investigation," Evers said.

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Police said four mentally disabled adults were rescued from the basement of the northeast Philadelphia apartment building on Saturday after the landlord shined a flashlight behind a steel door that had been chained shut. One victim had been shackled to the boiler, police said.

The space was too small for an adult to stand up straight and reeked of waste from the buckets the victims used to relieve themselves, according to police.

Detectives have been able to make contact with the families of three of the victims, but were still trying to reach the family of a fourth. Evers identified him as Herbert Knowles, 40. He may be from Virginia, Evers said.

"Out of the four, he has the most disabilities," Evers said. "He was so happy to be in the hospital and eat food. The detective says he's like a new person just hours after captivity."

Evers said Weston may have met one of the victims through an online dating service.

"Talk about preying on the weak and weary," Evers said. "You can't get any lower than this person."

Evers said two of the victims are from Philadelphia — one, a woman, had been listed as a missing person since 2005. The other is a man from North Carolina.

Charges of criminal conspiracy, aggravated assault, kidnapping, criminal trespass, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment and related offenses were filed Sunday against Weston, 51, and Gregory Thomas, 47, both of Philadelphia, as well as Eddie Wright, 50, officially listed as homeless but originally from Texas. Listed phone numbers for the defendants could not be found and it was unclear whether they had attorneys.

Thomas and Wright are being held on $500,000 bail following their arraignments Sunday. Online court records do not indicate if Weston has been arraigned.