EL CAJON, Calif. - A 91-year-old woman pleaded guilty Friday to failing to file federal tax returns for her company that made and sold suicide kits.
Sharlotte Hydorn entered the plea in federal court to the tax charge dating back to 2007 and acknowledged she made more than $150,000 in income from various sources during that period, including from the sale of helium kits that people could use to kill themselves.
During a May raid on her home in El Cajon, east of San Diego, federal agents seized kits that sold for $40 each and essentially consisted of a plastic bag and clear tubing.
Hydorn said she sold the kits under the name "GLADD Group." Court documents say she sold more than 1,300 kits to people across the United States and abroad. Most of them contacted her by mail or phone.
In court, she admitted she made $66,717 in 2010 and paid no taxes on that.
"This prosecution puts an end to the defendant's trafficking in these dangerous, unregulated devices," U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy said.
Hydorn, a retired school teacher, told authorities she knew the kits were intended to be used to commit suicide but she said she thought they would be used by the terminally ill.
Prosecutors, however, said she took no steps to verify the physical condition, age, identity or mental state of her customers and therefore had no idea whether her kits were being bought by people suffering from depression or by minors acting without the consent of an adult.
Prosecutors said Hydorn also tried to hide the true purpose of her kits on U.S. Customs forms by listing them as an "orchid humidifier," or "beauty bonnet" and "plastic rain hood."
They said a document seized at her home during the raid stated that the GLADD Group preferred customers to pay with money orders because they "don't leave a paper trail." It also stated she would prefer to not have her name in the check registers of those who "have hastened their deaths."
After the raid on her home, Hydorn told The Associated Press that she wasn't responsible for who uses the kit and was only trying to help people in pain. She said she had been in business for three years and sold up to 60 kits a month.
According to court documents, Hydorn's helium hood kits consisted of medical-grade tubing, a plastic bag with an elastic collar, or "hood," and a diagram on how to use the kit. The kits caused death by helium asphyxiation once the hood was attached to a helium gas source which was not part of the kits.
Investigators determined that the kits were sold to at least 50 people in San Diego County since 2007 and that four of those people last year used the kits to commit suicide. None was terminally ill, according to investigators.
As part of her plea deal, Hydorn agreed to pay $26,000 in outstanding taxes.
A judge ordered her released on $10,000 bond on the condition she not assist any suicides. She was scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 16.