German fugitive mother of LA arson suspect tells judge her son might have been taken by Nazis

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The mother of Harry Burkhart — the suspect in more than 50 Los Angeles arson fires — told a federal judge Tuesday that her son is mentally ill and suggested he might have been taken by the Nazis.

Dorothee Burkhart appeared in federal court Tuesday afternoon for a hearing regarding a "provisional arrest warrant pending extradition." She told U.S. Dist. Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle that her son had been missing since Monday and she believed the Nazis might have him.

She appeared in a green jacket and tan pants with bags under her eyes and her blond hair tied in a long ponytail down her back. Burkhart, who is in her 50s, spoke aggressively in a thick German accent with her feet shackled. She was attended by three U.S. Marshals.

Burkhart asked to find her own attorney and has until Friday, when her next hearing is set.

She was arrested Dec. 28 on a provisional arrest warrant requested by the Republic of Germany issued Dec. 19. A provisional arrest warrant is typically issued when there are criminal charges pending overseas against a person.

The German government has 60 days to issue a formal extradition request, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.

She was in court last Thursday for an initial hearing before the magistrate judge. During the hearing, her 24-year-old son, Harry Burkhart, caught officials' attention after he interrupted the hearing by yelling expletives and was escorted out of the courtroom by authorities, Mrozek said. The fires — most of which were in carports — began early Friday morning.

Harry Burkhart is accused of setting at least 50 fires primarily in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles. The fires caused an estimated $3 million in damages.

Burkhart was arrested shortly before 3 a.m. Monday and is being held without bail. Federal officials alerted LAPD to Burkhart after recognizing him in a security video police released to the public. He is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

Dorothee Burkhart apparently entered the United States in January 2007, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.* In the complaint, which was unsealed Tuesday, she is referred to as "a fugitive from the government of Germany."

According to the seven-page complaint filed Dec. 19, she is charged in Germany with 19 counts of fraud "committed on a commercial basis and as a member of a gang," and embezzlement. A warrant for her arrest was issued Sept. 24, 2007 by a judge in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Ms. Burkhart is accused of not paying 7,680 euros (or $9,320.45) for a breast augmentation surgery she received on June 21, 2004. She allegedly had no intention of paying and claimed her husband had transferred funds.

She also allegedly failed to return tens of thousands of dollars in security deposits for multiple apartments in the Frankfurt am Main area from September 2000 through August 2002, July 2005 through June 2006, and August 2005 through July 2006. She also allegedly falsely represented herself as a tour guide.

U.S. Immigration officials have filed "immigration detainers" against the mother and son, which is essentially a request for custody after they are released by local authorities so as to pursue follow-up immigration enforcement.

*This story was corrected from an earlier version that said Dorothee Burkhart entered the United States on Oct. 20. The court documents released Tuesday incorrectly states her entry date, according to the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney's Office. Her most recent documented entry into the U.S. was in January 2007.

Tami Abdollah can be contacted by email and Twitter (@LATams).

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