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Arson suspect's mother was in U.S. illegally when arrested

January 3, 2012 |  5:34 pm

Click here to see more photos.The mother of suspected arsonist Harry Burkhart was illegally in the U.S. when she was arrested last week on a criminal warrant issued by German authorities, officials said.

Dorothee Burkhart, who was living in Los Angeles at the time of her arrest, currently has “no lawful immigration status,” according to Department of Homeland Security records. Burkhart last entered the U.S. lawfully in January 2007 and departed the country four months later, records show.

Given Burkhart’s illegal status, authorities have lodged an immigration detainer against her, authorities said. Her last known local address was an apartment complex on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

PHOTOS: Southland arsons

Extradition proceedings for Burkhart were pushed back to later this week to allow her time to retain her own attorney, officials said.

She was arrested Thursday on a criminal warrant issued by German authorities. A day later, a series of more than 50 fires started. Her son, Harry Burkhart, was arrested Monday and booked on arson charges.

At the time of his arrest, Harry Burkhart was in the country lawfully on a non-immigrant visa, which expires Jan. 18. An immigration detainer also has been placed against him, indicating immigration officials will seek to take him into custody upon his release by local authorities to pursue any follow-up enforcement action. 

FULL COVERAGE: Southland arsons

The seven-page complaint against Dorothee Burkhart filed by Assistant U.S. Atty. Cathy Ostiller said that the government was “informed through diplomatic channels” that she is charged in state court in Frankfurt with “19 counts of fraud committed on a commercial basis and as a member of a gang.”

The complaint details about $45,000 worth of alleged embezzlement of renters and landlords with whom she did business between 2000 and 2006. The largest sum listed in the complaint was about $10,000.

Burkhart allegedly owed a Frankfurt plastic surgeon who performed a breast augmentation operation on her in 2004 after she provided falsified records of an advance payment.

It was unclear from the complaint why Burkhart became such a high-priority target in an international dragnet. The warrant for her arrest was issued Sept. 24, 2007, by Judge Hans-Ulrich Biernath in a Frankfurt court. The offenses for which she was sought are covered by the extradition treaty between Germany and the United States, Ostiller said.

Citing Interpol as well as German diplomatic authority, the complaint described Burkhart as a “German national.” But she spoke German as haltingly as she spoke English. She had first been provided with a Russian-language interpreter for the initial deportation hearing last week, which Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle referred to as having been of little assistance.

Burkhart on Tuesday declined to be represented by the federal public defender’s office, telling the judge: “I don’t want an attorney from this government.” She glared across the room at Ostiller as she made the statement. She had also refused a public defender at a hearing last Thursday.

Nagle ordered the woman back to court Friday afternoon for a hearing on whether she qualified for the “requisite special circumstances” for bail while awaiting extradition. Nagle also told Burkhart that she would be allowed to speak with representatives from the German consulate.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said that from the time of Burkhart’s arrest, the German government had 60 days to file a formal request for extradition.


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Photo: Burkhart after his arrest Monday in Hollywood. Credit: Associated Press