White West Virginia couple arrested for allegedly using adopted Black children as slaves

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Jun 26, 2024 at 12:12 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

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In a shocking and disturbing case, a wealthy white couple from West Virginia is facing serious allegations of human trafficking and forced labour after authorities discovered that their five adopted Black children were living in deplorable conditions and being treated as slaves.

Donald Ray Lantz, 63, and Jeanne Kay Whitefeather, 62, have pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen charges, including human trafficking of a minor, use of a minor in forced labour, and child neglect creating a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death. The couple’s arrest came after a wellness check in October revealed the horrifying living conditions of their adopted children on their Sissonville property.

According to the indictment, described by Kanawha County Circuit Judge Maryclaire Akers as one of the worst she’s ever encountered, the couple allegedly selected the children because of their race and forced them to work on their farmland. “These children were targeted because of their race and were used basically as slaves, from what the indictment alleges,” Judge Akers stated.

The case broke when a neighbour’s call led to a wellness check, revealing two teenagers locked in a decrepit shed. The teens, a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl were found in dirty clothing, their living quarters devoid of basic necessities like lights or running water. They reported being locked in the shed for 12 hours and given minimal food. They were forced to sleep on a concrete floor without mattresses, and the boy’s bare feet had open sores.

Inside the main residence, a 9-year-old girl was found by police. Lantz and Whitefeather later arrived separately with an 11-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl who had been with acquaintances. Whitefeather claimed the teens “liked” the shed, referring to it as a “clubhouse.”

The children recounted continuous abuse at both the West Virginia home and the couple’s other residence in Washington state.

While many Child Protective Services (CPS) employees strive to protect children, alarming cases of corruption still occur. Reports of workers falsifying documents, lying to the court, and unjustly removing children are not uncommon. One particularly egregious example involved a CPS supervisor in Texas who was found guilty of evidence tampering. Such incidents highlight the notorious corruption within CPS, making it even more difficult for genuine cases of abuse to be properly addressed and prosecuted.

Judge Akers raised the couple’s bond after prosecutors argued their original bonds were likely obtained through trafficking profits. The couple had managed to pay a $400,000 bond for their release from jail in February. Kanawha County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Krivonyak stated that the couple sold an 80-acre ranch in Tonasket, Washington, for $725,000 on 2 February. Whitefeather’s brother posted two $200,000 bonds to secure their release three days later.

On 28 March, prosecutors said the couple sold their Sissonville home for $295,000. Despite arguments that the bond money might have come from legitimate sources, prosecutors maintained that its intended use was linked to human trafficking and forced labour. Krivonyak argued the money should be transferred from state custody to a trust fund for the children. Lantz and Whitefeather were taken back into custody after their bonds were raised to $500,000 each.

As of now, the couple’s trial has been scheduled for 9 September 2024.

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