White West Virginia couple accused of adopting Black children and forcing them to work ‘as

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A West Virginia couple is facing charges of human trafficking, child neglect, forced labor and more after, prosecutors allege, they adopted five Black children from a shelter to do forced labor and live in deplorable conditions.

Jane Whitefeather
Jane Whitefeather.WSAZ

Jeanne Whitefeather, 62, and Donald Lantz, 63, allegedly adopted the children, ages 6 to 16, from a shelter for homeless and vulnerable youth, targeting them for forced labor specifically because of their race, according to the 16-count indictment. 

“It alleges human trafficking, human rights violations, the use of forced labor,” Kanawha County Circuit Judge Maryclaire Akers said of the indictment, according to West Virginia Metro News. “Human rights violations specific to the fact that these children were targeted because of their race and they were used basically as slaves from what the indictment alleges.”

Donald Lantz
Donald Lantz.WSAZ

Whitefeather and Lantz are being held at South Central Regional Jail in Kanawha County on $500,000 bail, according to jail records. They both pleaded not guilty earlier this month. Whitefeather’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News. Lantz, who according to court officials is representing himself, could not be reached for comment. 

Kanawha County sheriff’s deputies found the children in October during a welfare check at the couple’s Sissonville home. Deputies forced their way into a barn on the property, where they found two children in a small room. 

“The children had no means to exit the barn on their own, no running water, no bathroom facilities, and were obviously deprived of adequate hygienic care and food,” police said in a statement at the time. Police said they then found a “small child” locked inside the main home alone.

The two children in the barn, aged 14 and 16, said they’d been locked inside for about 12 hours when they were found and were forced to sleep on the bare concrete floor according to the indictment. Court documents stated that the children were dirty, had a strong body odor, and the 14-year-old had “open sores on his bare feet.” 

“Neighbors also reported that the children were forced to perform farm labor and were not permitted inside the residence,” WVMN reported, citing the filing. 

During the hearing, according to the Associated Press, Whitefeather’s attorney, Mark Plants, said there was a key inside the shed where teens were found, and that there was “just a plain and simple misunderstanding about what is going on here.”

Lantz arrived home hours later with an 11-year-old boy and he led deputies to a 6-year-old girl who was staying with friends of the couple, according to WCHS

The couple is accused of abusing the children initially at their 80-acre ranch in Washington state, and then in West Virginia, where they moved after learning they were being investigated, Metro News reported

The couple first posted their combined $400,000 bail, but earlier this month a judge ruled that the bail was too low and raised their bonds to $500,000 each. Prosecutors said they believe the couple paid the initial bond through money they made from human trafficking at their Washington and West Virginia homes, which the couple has since sold

“We believe that the family lived at those two residences while they were committing the crimes. That turned the residences from property into contraband,” Kanawha County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Krivonyak told NBC News.

“We said, ‘Judge we want you to hold on to the money until we have a chance to litigate the claims. If we’re right, that money should go to the kids.’”

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