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Investigators try to unravel abduction hoax case

Thursday, May 28, 2009 | 4:40 p.m. CDT

PHILADELPHIA — Bonnie Sweeten appeared to neighbors, colleagues and other school parents like a woman smoothly juggling the responsibilities of work and family.

But this week, police say, the 38-year-old drained several bank accounts, took a former co-worker's driver's license, faked a 911 call about being stuffed in a car trunk and boarded a flight with her daughter to Disney World.

The call touched off a frantic search for the pair that ended 30 hours later when police handcuffed Sweeten as she and the child returned to their hotel at the amusement park on Wednesday night.

She has been charged with filing a false report and identity theft. Records listed no lawyer for her yet.

The missing girl, Julia Rakoczy, was reunited with her father at an Orlando police station on Thursday afternoon.

"The daughter was very concerned for her mother," said Jim Solomons, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office. "To see any one of your parents arrested and taken to jail and then you're put in protective custody ... that's a terrible situation for anyone, much less a kid."

Detectives from Bucks County, Pa., were in Orlando to bring Sweeten back to Pennsylvania if she waived extradition.

Sweeten fled as she was being investigated for theft from a relative and perhaps others, authorities said. No charges had been filed in that probe.

She worked for 15 years for Debbie Carlitz, a lawyer in suburban Philadelphia whose law license has been inactive or suspended in recent years, according to state documents. Sweeten is listed as a director at a foundation Carlitz runs, The Carlitz Foundation, which according to its Web site raises money for autism research and for people in Burma.

The charity is not registered in Pennsylvania or listed in Guidestar, a national database of IRS-recognized charities.

Carlitz, reached by phone Thursday morning, said she was not sure whether any money was missing from her coffers.

"I can't (tell you) right now," she said. "I need to gather the information myself."

The Bucks County Courier Times, citing police, said the embezzlement may total several hundred thousand dollars. Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry did not return messages Thursday for comment.

Sweeten lived with her husband, landscaper Richard L. Sweeten, in a $425,000 house in a new development in bucolic Bucks County. She also has a 15-year-old daughter by Rakoczy, who lives nearby, and an 8-month-old girl with Sweeten.

According to the police complaint, Sweeten withdrew more than $12,000 from several bank accounts in the past week.

She then went to the home of former co-worker Jillian Jenkinson Tuesday afternoon and said she needed to make a copy of her driver's license to roll over her 401(k) retirement account, the papers said. Sweeten then took her friend's license to the airport, where she paid cash to book a flight in Jenkinson's name.

She also booked the motel room under that name and paid for it through Friday, the FBI said.

Police staked out the Disney complex after learning of the alleged identity switch and confirming through airport security video that mother and daughter had actually boarded the Orlando flight. Concerned about the girl's safety, they waited at the hotel for them to return Wednesday night.

"We didn't know this woman's state of mind," said agent J.J. Klaver, the FBI spokesman in Philadelphia.

Sweeten was arrested at about 8:40 p.m.

Neighbors on Sweeten's cul-de-sac describe her as someone who always remembered other children's birthdays and hosted neighborhood parties. They saw the family playing outside over the Memorial Day weekend while Sweeten's husband worked on a yard project.

Yet Henry, without giving specifics, suggested that Sweeten was suffering from both domestic and financial concerns. She did not elaborate.

Anthony Rakoczy thinks his ex-wife got in over her head and "lost it a little bit."

"I've known this woman for a long time," he said Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America." ''She's always been very together, tons of friends. Everybody loves her."

 

Associated Press writers Bill Bergstrom in Feasterville, Pa., and Michael Schneider in Orlando contributed to this report.

 


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Comments

Charles Dudley Jr May 28, 2009 | 7:49 p.m.

That woman needs some serious Psych help.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 28, 2009 | 9:08 p.m.

@ Big Chief Broken Ankle:
One time I was abducted by gray aliens...

(Report Comment)
John Schultz May 29, 2009 | 5:07 a.m.

Nice assumption there, Chuck.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr May 29, 2009 | 7:31 a.m.

John Schultz after listening to the news and more details coming out on this by the hour that woman is nutz!

Did you see her picture on TV John Schultz?

Besides dragging her kid with her too and taking the kid away from the dad was wrong.

(Report Comment)

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