West Virginia couple charged with trafficking their adopted Black children to be used as ‘slaves,’ authorities allege

Two West Virginia parents are awaiting trial on more than a dozen charges after adopting four Black children and allegedly using them for “forced labor” on their farm, court documents show.

Jeanne Whitefeather, 62 and Donald Lantz, 63, who are both White, have been charged with human trafficking of children, civil rights violations, use of a minor child in forced labor and child neglect, according to the 17-count indictment.

Madison Tuck, assistant prosecuting attorney for Kanawha County, West Virginia, told CNN Wednesday that the trial is set to begin on September 9.

Tuck said the children are “all safe” but declined to give further details about their location.

Lantz and Whitefeather entered not guilty pleas during a June 11 arraignment.

Mark Plants, an attorney representing Whitefeather, told CNN Thursday that his client “absolutely, emphatically (denies) the allegations.”

“We’re talking about two parents who adopted five Black children, has cared for them for the last eight years, and this is going to come out at trial. And we’ll let the jury decide at the end of the day. But we absolutely, emphatically deny the allegations.”

Lantz’s attorney did not immediately return requests for comment.

During the arraignment, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Maryclaire Akers said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an indictment like this in all of my time.”

Akers, referencing the indictment, said it alleges the children were “targeted because of their race” to be used “as basically slaves.”

CNN has obtained court documents related to the case, which began in October 2023 when Kanawha County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a 911 call raising concerns about the children.

CNN requested a copy of the 911 call, but authorities declined to release it.

The 911 caller reported the children were “made to do farm work” and “not allowed inside the house,” according to a sworn statement from the deputy who responded to the call.

A news release from the sheriff’s office noted that “deputies had to force entry into the barn where they located a juvenile male and juvenile female locked inside an approximate 20x14 foot 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,” the release said.

According to the deputy’s sworn statement, “the female juvenile also stated she and her 14-year-old brother were not allowed inside the house.”

“There were no accessible windows in the room or way for the children to exit. If there were a medical emergency or fire, the children would be unable to exit the locked room to safety,” the statement said.

When Whitefeather and Lantz arrived hours later, the deputy wrote, “Ms. Whitefeather made the admission to Det. Alford that the children were left in the shed but stated they ‘like it.’”

An affidavit from a lieutenant in the sheriff’s office indicated that the police encounter in October 2023 was preceded by two other concerned 911 calls about the wellbeing of the children.

Both callers, in May and June 2023, told dispatchers that children living there were “sleeping in the barn” and using a portable toilet outside, according to the affidavit.

Both times, Whitefeather and Lantz claimed to responding deputies that they had just moved to the site from Washington State and were using the portable toilet due to plumbing issues in their new home, the statement said.

“Ms. Whitefeather told the deputies that people in the area don’t like them, and vehicles had been stopping on the roadway in front of their residence,” the lieutenant wrote of the June 2023 encounter. “This call was cleared with ‘no police action necessary.’”

A grand jury returned an indictment against Whitefeather and Lantz in May that allege, among other things, that the couple did “knowingly, feloniously, and willfully traffic a minor,” and “did recruit, entice, and obtain the victim of the offense from a shelter and facility that serves runaway youths, children in foster care, the homeless and victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault.”

The pair are each being held on $500,000 “cash-only” bonds, according to an arraignment order.

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