Judge Gave Basement Ringleader Custody of Niece

Presiding Family Court judge granted custody to Weston 9 years ago

By NBCPhiladelphia.com Staff
|  Friday, Oct 28, 2011  |  Updated 6:59 AM EDT
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A Philadelphia family court judge had an previous encounter with the alleged ringleader of a social security benefits scam.

NBC Philadelphia, Katy Zachry

A Philadelphia family court judge had an previous encounter with the alleged ringleader of a social security benefits scam.

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A new and strange twist came to light Thursday in the basement of horror case.

The judge overseeing the fate of the eight children involved in this case has encountered the alleged ringleader before.

Family Court spokesman Frank Keel confirmed that in 2002, Administrative Judge of the Family Division Kevin Dougherty gave Linda Weston custody of her niece, Beatrice.

“Judge Kevin Dougherty is outraged by recent revelations in this case.

He has tried more than 100,000 cases over the course of 10 years on the bench, so one can imagine how the Beatrice Weston case, which was a fairly routine truancy matter at the time it came before Judge Dougherty in 2002, did not automatically come to mind. The record was ordered from the archives, has been retrieved and reviewed, and one of the court transcripts was finally delivered this morning. While our ability to comment is limited by confidentiality, we can now confirm that Judge Dougherty was the presiding judge in this matter. Furthermore, the record reflects that the child, Beatrice, was present and represented by counsel. Her mother and Linda Weston were present. The mother agreed to the child residing with her sister Linda Weston.”

Weston had already served time for murder at the time of the decision.

Beatrice was discovered in the closet of Weston's Tacony home last week and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office said charges in that case are pending.

The Family Court statement goes on to question DHS in their handling of Beatrice’s case.

“DHS was a party to the action, and DHS and the Child Advocate recommended to the Court that the child should remain with Linda Weston. DHS was ordered by Judge Dougherty to investigate the safety of the child's home and the reasonableness of the placement. The Court granted the request of DHS for them to supervise the family and provide mid-level services in the home. Clearly, Judge Dougherty has no recollection of ever being advised of Linda Weston's criminal record by DHS, or by the Child Advocate, or by the child's mother, Vicky Weston, all of whom were present in court and agreed to the placement on Aug. 16, 2002. The record reflects that Judge Dougherty had several court hearings over a span of eight months, wherein DHS represented to the Court that the child, Beatrice, was safe and her needs were being met.

Additionally, DHS requested that the level of in-home services be reduced and ultimately the case be discharged. As we have stated before, all Family Court judges are only as good as the information they are provided by DHS. There are serious questions still to be answered regarding the information -- or lack of information -- Judge Dougherty received from DHS regarding Linda Weston and her suitability as a caretaker.

Judge Kevin Dougherty is one of the most honored and respected members of the bench in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. His reputation is beyond reproach.”

Mayor Michael Nutter’s office says they began a comprehensive investigation of all city agencies involved in this complicated case.

“On behalf of DHS, we cannot and will not violate the requirements of confidentiality under Pennsylvania law,” said Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald. “We're disappointed that the Court would reveal selectively case-specific details in a confidential matter before the Court through a public statement. The city has begun a comprehensive internal investigation of all city agencies with involvement in this complicated case and a report will be given to the mayor.”Judge Kevin Dougherty speaks during interview on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2007, in Philadelphia.

Linda Weston is the alleged ringleader of the plot to steal social security benefits from four mentally-challenged captives held in a basement. Two men and Weston’s own daughter are also charged in the case.


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