Arson suspect's mother may have entered U.S. illegally, feds say
Dorothee Burkhart, the mother of suspected Hollywood arsonist Harry Burkhart and a German fugitive, may have illegally entered the U.S. using fake documents, federal authorities alleged in court documents.
Authorities believe Harry Burkhart launched a four-day arson spree over the long New Year’s Eve weekend after his mother was arrested for possible extradition to Germany. The elder Burkhart became a fugitive there after she escaped custody by squeezing out of a restroom window at a Frankfurt hospital in late 2007.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors filed formal extradition papers requesting that Dorothee Burkhart be sent back to Germany to face 17 charges there. She is accused of skipping out on payment for a breast augmentation surgery and pretending to be a landlady to cheat tenants out of deposit and rental payments.
Immigration authorities have said Dorothee Burkhart’s last legal entry into the U.S. was in January 2007, prior to her arrest in Germany. In a document filed in her extradition case, federal prosecutors said a recent search of her apartment in Los Angeles uncovered evidence that the Chechen-born woman used fraudulent papers to cross into the U.S.
“The government currently is conducting a parallel criminal investigation of the fugitive’s entry into the United States and believes that it was not, in fact, legal,” Assistant U.S. Atty Cathy Ostiller wrote. “It appears that the fugitive left the United States in May 2007 after she had overstayed her visa and later illegally reentered, possibly by avoiding inspection at the border or using false documents.”
Before arriving in Los Angeles, the Burkharts resided for a period of time in Vancouver, Canada, where they filed for asylum contending they were persecuted in Germany.
A court-appointed attorney representing Dorothee Burkhart has maintained that his client was in the U.S. legally and that she went in and out of the U.S. on a series of 90-day visitor visas. He asked a federal judge to release her on bail, saying she was not a flight risk because her son is in custody on arson charges.
She acts as the “communicative bridge” between Harry and the outside world, attorney Michael Belter wrote.
“So long as Harry Burkhart is in Los Angeles, Dorothee Burkhart will be in Los Angeles,” he wrote.
Federal magistrate judge Charles Eick has denied the request and ordered the woman to remain in custody until her extradition hearing in May.
-- Victoria Kim
Image: A rendering of Dorothee Burkhart in federal court. Credit: Bill Robles / Associated Press