crimesider

Hoax Abduction Mom Faces Charges

(AP)
Bonnie Sweeten makes her first court appearance at Orange County jail.

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) Bonnie Sweeten, the woman accused of faking her own abduction, but was found safe and sound with her 9-year-old daughter and $12,000 cash at Walt Disney World, waived her extradition rights and will be sent back to Pennsylvania to face charges of filing a false report and identity theft.

Sweeten, 38, appeared in an Orlando, Fla., courtroom Friday for a hearing that lasted less than a minute. Detectives from Bucks County, Pa., were in Orlando to bring her back, and a judge told Sweeten she would be returned soon.

"Thank you," Sweeten said.

Sweeten phoned 911 on Tuesday and told dispatchers that she and her 9-year-old daughter had been carjacked and stuffed in the trunk of a Cadillac. The call touched off a frantic search for the pair that ended 30 hours later when police handcuffed Sweeten as she and her daughter returned to their hotel at the amusement park.

Police say she drained several bank accounts and took a co-worker's driver's license before boarding a flight to Orlando.

Records listed no lawyer for her yet.

Her husband, Richard L. "Larry" Sweeten, said he is struggling to sort out the rumors of theft and marriage problems surrounding her disappearance. Sweeten, a landscaper, said Friday on NBC's "Today" show that he wanted to know "more than anybody" what caused his wife to flee with her daughter from a previous marriage.

Authorities have suggested that Sweeten was suffering from both domestic and financial concerns, but Sweeten said he doesn't think they have serious marital problems.

"We argue, like everybody else does," he said, but added the family had a fun-filled Memorial Day weekend together before his wife disappeared.

Larry Sweeten said his wife handled the family's finances, but said he'll now be looking into his bank accounts.

"I might be behind on my mortgage," he said.

Authorities also have said Bonnie Sweeten fled as she was being investigated for theft from a relative and perhaps others. No charges had been filed in that probe.

The Bucks County Courier Times, citing police, said the embezzlement may total several hundred thousand dollars. Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry did not return messages for comment Thursday.

The missing girl, Julia Rakoczy, was reunited with her father, Anthony Rakoczy, at an Orlando police station on Thursday afternoon, authorities said. She flew back to Philadelphia with him, and police escorted them off the plane.

"The daughter was very concerned for her mother," said Jim Solomons, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office. "To see any one of your parents arrested and taken to jail and then you're put in protective custody ... that's a terrible situation for anyone, much less a kid."

Bonnie Sweeten worked for 15 years for Debbie Carlitz, a lawyer in suburban Philadelphia whose law license has been inactive or suspended in recent years, according to state documents. Sweeten is listed as a director at a foundation Carlitz runs.

Carlitz, reached by phone Thursday morning, said she was not sure whether any money was missing from her coffers.

"I can't (tell you) right now," she said. "I need to gather the information myself."

Sweeten lived with her husband Larry Sweeten in a $425,000 house in a new development in bucolic Bucks County. She also has a 15-year-old daughter by Rakoczy, who lives nearby, and an 8-month-old girl with Sweeten.

According to the police complaint, Bonnie Sweeten withdrew more than $12,000 from several bank accounts in the past week.

She then went to the home of former co-worker on Tuesday afternoon and said she needed to make a copy of her driver's license to roll over her 401(k) retirement account, the papers said. Sweeten took her friend's license to the airport, where she paid cash to book a flight in the co-worker's name.

Police staked out the Disney complex after learning of the alleged identity switch and confirming through airport security video that mother and daughter had boarded the Orlando flight. Concerned about the girl's safety, they waited at the hotel for them to return Wednesday night.

"We didn't know this woman's state of mind," said agent J.J. Klaver, the FBI spokesman in Philadelphia.
  • Neil Katz

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