Abduction hoax mom held in $700K fraud case
PHILADELPHIA - June 25, 2010 -- A white suburban mother who once fled to Disney World after claiming two black men had kidnapped her and her daughter appeared in U.S. court Friday on new charges involving a $700,000 fraud case.
Bonnie Sweeten, 39, of Feasterville was paroled from a county prison for the hoax abduction early Friday and immediately taken into FBI custody. The paralegal and mother of three will be held until a detention hearing set for Wednesday.
Sweeten, wearing a white shirt and white sweat pants, spoke privately to a public defender but said nothing publicly and did not enter a plea at the brief hearing. Her long blond hair has darkened after nearly a year in prison. No friends or relatives were in the courtroom.
A 23-count federal indictment last month charged that she diverted money from her law firm and spent it on clothing, jewelry, tanning salons, gym fees and a $425,000 house. She also forged a driver's license, passport, court order and mortgage paperwork, authorities charged.
U.S. Magistrate Jacob Hart, in appointing a public defender Friday, noted Sweeten's high credit card debt. Authorities consider her a flight risk and will seek to detain her until trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf said. Sweeten faces more than six years in prison if convicted on all counts.
"She's a very good con artist," lawyer Debbie Carlitz, her former employer, said after discovering the missing law firm funds after Sweeten's arrest.
Sweeten called 911 in May 2009 to say two black men had carjacked and kidnapped her and her 9-year-old daughter near Philadelphia.
The FBI soon found her vehicle on the downtown city street where she had abandoned it, and spent several days unraveling the false report. At the time, Sweeten was being investigated for allegedly swindling her ex-husband's grandfather out of $280,000. Investigators believe she needed that money to repay the law firm accounts.
The frantic 911 call she made from her vehicle was played at her sentencing last summer in the state case, when she was sentenced to nine to 23 months for false reporting and identity theft.
Sweeten apologized as she described a list of mounting stresses, including marriage and infertility treatments. She has two daughters by her first husband, Anthony Rakoczy, including the daughter she took to Florida, and a third with her second husband, Larry Sweeten, a landscaper. Rakoczy stood by her in court that day, while Sweeten, who later filed for divorce, did not.
"I let my life slip out of control, and I did not have the proper tools or coping mechanisms to handle the enormous stress I was under," Sweeten told the unsympathetic judge. "My life imploded."
Her father, William Siner of Milton, Del., is on probation after pleading no contest to attacking two news cameramen waiting outside the courtroom.
The public defender appointed Friday, David Kozlow, did not immediately return a call for comment.
pennsylvania, bonnie sweeten, local/state
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