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Judge Denies Bail for Mother of L.A. Arson Suspect

Dorothee Burkhart faces extradition to her native Germany, where she is wanted on fraud charges.

A federal judge denied a request for bail by the mother of a man suspected of setting dozens of fires in Hollywood, West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley over New Year's weekend.

Dorothee Burkhart, 53, faces extradition to her native Germany, where she is wanted on fraud charges.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles F. Eick issued his written ruling Friday about four hours after hearing arguments from lawyers on both sides of the matter.

Burkhart's attorney, Michael Belter, argued that since his client is a witness in the arson case against her son, she should be set free from federal custody to help in his defense.

Dorothee Burkhart described herself as the sole link between her "mentally ill" son, Harry, and "the outside world." The 24-year-old faces trial on dozens of arson-related charges stemming from the series of fires that terrorized Los Angeles at the beginning of the year.

"I was the person who was the bridge between the outside world and the inside of his brain," the mother said in broken English during a lengthy and repetitive statement to Eick. "If I can treat him like a baby, tell him everything is alright . . . only I can help my son. I have to see him daily."

In successfully arguing against bail, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathy J. Ostiller said Dorothee Burkhart is a flight risk who, prior to her arrest in late December, had been "moving back and forth between Canada and the U.S. using false documents."

The prosecutor added that it was impossible to believe that the defendant is "the only person who can communicate with her son." Her arrest pending extradition is thought to have sparked the arson spree allegedly committed by her distraught only child.

During a two-hour hearing punctuated by interruptions from the defendant, Dorothee Burkhart said Harry is autistic with a mind "like a 5-year-old child . . . He can't be alone."

She said that if she would be allowed to help with his defense, Harry might be able to "remember all the things (that happened) after my arrest." She also maintained that her son was framed for the arson spree by "Nazis" who "want to have me back" in Germany.

"My son is part of my soul, part of my body," she said. "I will die with him together."

Dorothee Burkhart is accused in Frankfurt of subletting apartments that she did not own, failing to pay rent and security deposits on other locations, and defrauding a cosmetic surgeon out of about $10,000 for breast augmentation surgery for which she never paid, according to court papers.

The extradition process can take upwards of a year, federal prosecutors said. It took about four months to extradite former TV producer Bruce Beresford-Redman to Mexico to face charges for the killing of his wife -- an unusually short amount of time because Beresford-Redman decided not to appeal the judge's extradition order.

Belter told the judge that he had asked a Germany court to "suspend" its extradition request for Dorothee Burkhart on the grounds that she is a "necessary communicative bridge" between her son and attorneys in the arson case.

Ostiller, however, told Eick that Germany had denied the request.

Harry Burkhart faces 100 felony charges related to 49 blazes set between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2. Most of the fires began in automobiles but usually spread to homes in Hollywood, West Hollywood, North Hollywood, Studio City, Sherman Oaks and surrounding areas. See: Firebug Strikes Valley

His bail has been set at $7.5 million. A trial date has not been set.

Related Topics: Dorothee Burkhart, Harry Burkhart, and L.A. Arson

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