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Debbie Carlitz

Debbie Carlitz

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A Lower Southampton woman fled to Florida with her 9-year-old daughter after concocting a story of being abducted by two black men in Bucks County.

There was no kidnapping, no black Cadillac, no two black men, police said.

The woman who frantically called 911 Tuesday saying she and her 9-year-old daughter were shoved into the trunk of a Cadillac in broad daylight along busy Street Road really hopped a plane to Disney World, where she was arrested Wednesday night, authorities said.

She took off, police said, because she allegedly stole between $300,000 and $700,000 while working at an Upper Makefield law firm and directing an associated charity.

She wanted to return the money before it became a criminal case, according to law enforcement officials.

No charges have been filed in connection with the alleged theft.

Video surveillance from Philadelphia International Airport shows Bonnie Anne Sweeten, 38, of Saxon Drive in Lower Southampton, and her child Julia Rakoczy boarding a US Airways plane to Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday afternoon, police said.

She was taken into custody as she and her daughter returned to the Grand Floridian Hotel in the Walt Disney World Resort about 8:40 p.m.

Wednesday.

Sweeten is being held by the Orange County Sheriff's Office on charges filed in Bucks County of identity theft and making false reports to authorities, according to a warrant issued Wednesday night.

Julia was unharmed, police said, and will be in the custody of social workers until her biological father arrives.

The warrant states Sweeten withdrew more than $10,000 from bank accounts in the past week and paid a visit to a former coworker Tuesday prior to making the 911 kidnapping calls.

The two women had worked together for Upper Makefield attorney Debbie Carlitz.

Sweeten apparently told the former coworker, Jillian Jenkinson, that she needed Jenkinson's driver's license to help roll over Jenkinson's retirement account, according to court records.

Sweeten then used Jenkinson's license to buy two 4:15 p.m.

plane tickets from Philadelphia to Orlando with cash, police said.

The cash payment set off red flags and caused Sweeten to be delayed at the airport, but she was able to board the flight, police said.

Police said they were suspicious of Sweeten's kidnapping story from the beginning.

They said they knew she was having financial and marital problems from the start.

Sweeten first called 911 about 1:45 p.m.

Tuesday and told the dispatcher that she and her daughter were abducted after her GMC Denali was involved in a minor traffic accident, police said.

Six more calls followed, including one to leave a message on her husband's cell phone telling him she loved him and if she didn't see him again to tell the children she loved them.

Throughout the calls, the information she provided changed, police said.

She gave different locations for the accident, including an intersection that doesn't exist, they said.

And once said her daughter was in the car and then said she was in the trunk with her, police said.

More questions came as authorities traced the calls to cell towers on Lombard Street in Center City.

And when Philadelphia police found Sweeten's Denali about 1:30 a.m.

Wednesday at 15th and Chestnut streets, investigators said there was no evidence of a crash or visible dents on the vehicle.

The Denali is being held at a Bucks County evidence storage facility in Bristol Township.

A parking ticket on the window of the Denali was issued by the Philadelphia Parking Authority at 2:24 p.m., roughly 10 minutes after Sweeten's last phone call to 911, police said.

Video surveillance from the area so far has shown only pictures of the SUV already parked on the street, police said.

Videos from businesses along Street Road were also being examined, but nothing showed the Denali being driven in the area.

And there's no evidence of an accident, police said.

According to police, Sweeten first told them the accident happened in Lower Southampton and then later said it occurred in Upper Southampton.

Advertisement The story sparked national media interest even as questions arose about the reports' authenticity.

And police continued treating it as a kidnapping, issuing an Amber Alert several hours after the first 911 call.

Authorities said despite the reports of a kidnapping by two black males, no one was profiled and no one was taken into custody as a suspect.

Sweeten and Julia were supposed to be on their way to a doctor's appointment at the time of the reported accident, police said.

Julia had stayed home from school Tuesday.

The doctor's office has confirmed with police that the appointment was made but Sweeten and her daughter never arrived.

In addition to the 911 calls, Sweeten also called her husband's cell phone.

But investigators said they don't believe the husband or other family members were involved with the disappearance.

Sweeten's husband, Richard L.

Sweeten, has been staying with his parents in Falls since reporters began camping out at the family home, police said.

Bonnie and Richard Sweeten have an infant daughter Faith.

Bonnie Sweeten has two daughters, Julia and 15-year-old Paige Alexander, with her first husband Anthony Rakoczy of Lower Southampton.

Investigators said that Sweeten told them she took Julia with her, because she had urges to commit suicide but knew that her bond with her middle child would keep her from acting on that urge.

Neighbors have said the Sweetens are a nice couple and that they run a landscaping business.

Bonnie Sweeten does the landscaping business's finances and works for Debbie Carlitz, a personal injury attorney from Upper Makefield, according to police.

The state Supreme Court suspended Carlitz from practicing law in Pennsylvania last year, but that ended in March, according to records available on the court's Web site.

Carlitz declined to comment Wednesday on Sweeten's disappearance, stating that she's "terribly upset by the situation." Sweeten is also a director at a New Hope charity run by Carlitz, which reportedly raises money for autism research.

District Attorney Michelle Henry declined to comment on reports of theft from the charity or law firm.

Police said Sweeten was trying to pay off a debt involving either the law firm or the charity before police got involved in a possible theft investigation.

They said she got a check from her parents that she doctored to read $285,000 to pay back the law firm in an attempt to avoid prosecution, law enforcement officials said.

Earlier Wednesday, Sweeten's husband pleaded for his wife to come home to take care of their 9-month-old daughter.

Fighting back tears behind sunglasses, Richard Sweeten sat in the parking lot of Tawanka Elementary School about 5:30 p.m., about five miles away from the national media frenzy that ascended at the Upper Southampton Police Department off Street Road.

Sweeten, a landscaper, said he has no ill will toward his wife and only wishes she comes home.

"I am pleading for her just to come home.

We are all supporting her.

She has a lot of family here.

Please just come home, Bonnie," he said.

"I only hope she and our daughter are OK.

I am just begging she come home." He found it odd that she took off.

"She always writes me love notes and tells me she loves me and to have a good day.

I have no idea why she would do something like this.

Whatever it is, just please come home and we can work it out," he said.

"We have a 9-month-old that needs her.

My mother is caring for her now, but she needs her mother," he said.

"I have no idea why she would do something like this.

I do not know where to begin.

My mind is going 100 mph right now." Sweeten said he had no idea if his wife had any money with her when she left Tuesday.

"She handles all the bills, pays the mortgage, etc.

I just use my debit card," he said.



http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/local/courier_times/courier_times_news_details/article/28/2009/may/28/kidnapping-a-hoax.html
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