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Mother of Hollywood arson suspect faces extradition to Germany

May 17, 2012 |  9:00 am

The mother of suspected Hollywood arsonist Harry Burkhart, charged with setting 50 fires, faces an extradition hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court with prosecutors expected to argue she entered the U.S. using fake documents.

Dorothee Burkhart, 53, is fighting extradition to Germany, where she's wanted on fraud charges. Harry Burkhart is awaiting a possible trial on dozens of arson-related charges stemming from the 50 fires set during a four-night spree in Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.

Dorothee BurkhartAuthorities believe Harry Burkhart launched the spree over the long New Year’s Eve weekend after his mother was arrested and faced with the possibility of extradition. The elder Burkhart reportedly became a fugitive in Germany when she escaped custody by squeezing out of a restroom window at a Frankfurt hospital in 2007.

Federal prosecutors have 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 breast augmentation surgery and pretending to be a landlady to cheat tenants out of deposit and rental payments.

Immigration authorities have said Burkhart’s last legal entry into the U.S. was in January 2007, before her arrest in Germany, where she is a citizen. 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 enter 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 she was in the U.S. legally and 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 was 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.


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-- Richard Winton


Illustration: An artist's rendering of Dorothee Burkhart in federal court. Credit: Bill Robles / Associated Press