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Judge Upholds Extradition for Mother of L.A. Arson Suspect

Dorothee Burkhart, 53, sought a return to Germany to face fraud charges, but a judge said Burkhart's legal evidence lacks merit.

A federal judge in Los Angeles Tuesday upheld the extradition of a woman whose son is accused of setting dozens of fires in Hollywood, West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley last New Year's weekend, and who herself is facing a host of fraud charges in Europe.

Dorothee Burkhart had sought to overturn a judge's earlier decision to have her returned to Germany to face the fraud charges.

In a seven-page order denying Burkhart's habeas petition, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson wrote that Burkhart's primary argument that her extradition is not supported by competent legal evidence is "without merit.''

Wilson also rejected Burkhart's insistence that the 17 fraud charges she faces in Frankfurt are not covered by the extradition treaty between the United States and Germany.

Burkhart "offers no further argument in support of this conclusion," Wilson wrote, adding that the crimes for which she is being extradited "clearly fall" within the treaty.

Defense attorney Michael Belter said he hadn't yet seen the judge's order. But he said his next legal move—which would be an appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals—would be up to his client.

"It's her decision," Belter said.

At her most recent scheduled appearance before Wilson last month, Burkhart refused to leave her jail cell and come to court. Belter told the judge that Burkhart had directed him to "abandon" the bond hearing.

Burkhart, 53, is being held at the downtown Metropolitan Detention Center pending extradition back to her native Germany to face trial.

Her 25-year-old son faces trial on dozens of arson-related charges stemming from the series of fires that terrorized Los Angeles over four nights at the start of the year.

One of Burkhart's arguments in her fight against extradition is that she is needed as a material witness in the arson case pending against her son.

However, in today's papers, Wilson pointed out that the government had previously "pledged" that it would honor a material witness order and, if necessary, seek to bring Burkhart back to the United States to testify in her son's defense.

Wilson wrote that, as a result of that assurance, there is "little reason to stay her extradition."

As for Burkhart's fear of "political and physical persecution" at the hands of German officials if she is sent back to her homeland, Wilson wrote that such appeals should be addressed by the Secretary of State, not the courts.

Along with a 9th Circuit petition, Burkhart can appeal to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to suspend her return to Germany on humanitarian grounds or on the basis of treatment the fugitive could receive at home.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathy Ostiller has said that if Burkhart fought extradition on all fronts, it could be as much as two years before she is put on a plane to Frankfurt.

Dorothee Burkhart describes herself as the sole link between her "autistic, mentally ill" son, Harry, and "the outside world."

Her arrest pending extradition is thought to have sparked the arson rampage allegedly committed by her only child.

The woman 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.

A trial date has not been set for Harry Burkhart, who faces 100 felony charges related to 49 blazes set between last Dec. 30 and Jan. 2. Most of the fires began in automobiles but often spread to homes in Hollywood, North Hollywood, West Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and surrounding areas.

His bail has been set at $7.5 million.

Christopher Thom October 17, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Which is it...? "Dorothee Burkhart, 53, sought a return to Germany to face fraud charges, but a judge said Burkhart's legal evidence lacks merit." Or... "Dorothee Burkhart had sought to overturn a judge's earlier decision to have her returned to Germany to face the fraud charges."
William (Praxis) October 22, 2012 at 05:53 AM
I suspect the "sought" was a typo, and that the intended word is "fought".
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