basement
Linda Weston was convicted of keeping her victims locked in cramped surroundings in different US states from 2001 to 2011 (Representational photo)Gleb Garanich/Reuters

A 55-year-old woman in the US has been sentenced to life plus 80 years in jail for locking up disabled people in basements and attics in order to steal their social benefit cheques. Linda Weston, the main accused, was convicted of keeping her victims locked in different US states from 2001 to 2011.

According to NBC News, when Judge Cynthia Rufe sentenced Weston to life in prison, she said: "Your acts were unconscionable. You are evil." She further said: "Ironically, in prison you will get three meals a day and medical and psychological services . . . something you didn't do for your captives." Weston was saved from the death penalty following a plea bargain in September.

Weston was saved from the death penalty following a plea bargain in September. She pleaded guilty to 196 federal counts during the hearing and apologised for what she had done: "I am sorry. I believe in God and God knows what happened." To which the judge, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, replied: "There are a lot of people in this courtroom who know what happened, too."

Two of Weston's associates -- Eddie Wright and Weston's daughter, Jean McIntosh -- have pleaded guilty, while two others are awaiting trial. According to prosecutors, the group ran their operations in three other states. Back in 2011, four disabled adults were discovered locked inside a boiler room in an apartment building in a Tacony neighbourhood in Philadelphia. They were rescued by the police.

According to the prosecutors, Weston's group tortured six disabled adults and four children by starving them. Some were even forced to drink their own urine and eat human waste. Others were encouraged to have children so the group could collect more benefits cheques.

Back in 2008 in Virginia, a woman in the group's captivity died after suffering from meningitis, after being kept starving and locked in a kitchen cabinet for months. Another victim died due to starvation in 2005. "You are evil and done a bad job on me. I'm trying to get over this and get this part behind me," one of the victims, Drwin McLemire was quoted as saying by NBC.

Weston's group stole more than $200,000 (£131,939) in social security benefits from victims, some of who were forced into prostitution, prosecutors said. "When the individuals tried to escape, stole food or otherwise protested their treatment, Weston and others punished them by slapping, punching, kicking, stabbing, burning and hitting them with closed hands, belts, sticks, bats and hammers or other objects, including the butt of a pistol," US District Attorney Zane Memeger said in a statement quoted by The Washington Post.