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Bonnie Sweeten seemed the picture-perfect suburban mom

If you made up a shopping list to collect all the ingredients for the classic version of the hypercharged American suburban mom of the 21st century, it might read something like this:

Bonnie Sweeten, in the custody of Bucks County Detectives and Upper Southampton Detectives, is escorted into court in Richboro, Pa. ( David Swanson / Staff Photographer )
Bonnie Sweeten, in the custody of Bucks County Detectives and Upper Southampton Detectives, is escorted into court in Richboro, Pa. ( David Swanson / Staff Photographer )Read more

If you made up a shopping list to collect all the ingredients for the classic version of the hypercharged American suburban mom of the 21st century, it might read something like this:

Large, well-kept house on a quiet cul-de-sac, with an expensive SUV in the garage. Check.

Blond-streaked, picture-perfect hair. Check.

Full-time job but still time to take part in a full array of activities at kid's school. Check.

Expensive fertility treatments to conceive a third child. Check.

Vacations in Colorado and Disney World. Check.

But somewhere along the way, 38-year-old Bonnie Sweeten's recipe for the American dream went wrong. And when problems that had been simmering below the surface finally boiled over, they shattered her carefully crafted illusion of suburban bliss in Bucks County and shocked neighbors who knew her only as a picture-perfect mom.

Sweeten, who police said faked a kidnapping of herself and her 9-year-old daughter, then fled to Disney World in the midst of serious financial troubles, seemed to have it all.

From modest beginnings in a blue-collar neighborhood of Lower Bucks County, she built piece by piece an enviable upper-middle-class lifestyle, seemingly through hard work, high energy, and luck. A paralegal and notary public, she held a full-time job at a law firm, was an active PTA mom, and helped her husband run a landscaping business.

But her life started to resemble one of the Desperate Housewives' - neighbors are calling her Saxon Drive street "Wisteria Lane" - as she allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to police, to pay for her increasingly expensive lifestyle.

Sweeten faces charges of identity theft and making false reports to police. She was released from Bucks County's prison about 5 p.m. yesterday after posting 10 percent of her $1 million bail in cash.

Louis R. Busico, her attorney, said last night that Sweeten would stay with "distant relatives" at an undisclosed location in Pennsylvania and "begin mental-health treatment next week." As a condition of her bail, Sweeten's visits with her children must be supervised, he said.

A hearing is scheduled for Thursday at magisterial court in Richboro, Busico said.

Authorities said Sweeten might have taken money from financial accounts belonging to several people, including her parents and a former coworker at a law firm run by Debbie Ann Carlitz. Police are also looking into Sweeten's conduct at the New Hope law firm, where she worked for 15 years before it closed in September, and at the Carlitz Foundation, which was formed in October to raise money for autism programs and other children's charities.

Carlitz's attorney, Ellen C. Brotman, declined to elaborate on Sweeten's arrest or the reported investigation of theft of money from Carlitz, with whom Sweeten had a close relationship.

How much and from whom Sweeten might have stolen are just a couple of the questions swirling in the vortex of confusion caused by the blond, model-tall woman in the last few days.

What is known about the mystery mom is that she grew up in the Oakford section of Trevose in a small, stone rancher. She graduated from Bensalem High School in 1989 and by 1991 had moved in with the family of Anthony Rakoczy a few blocks away. They married the next year.

That same year, court records show, Rakoczy was arrested on drug charges, accused of trafficking marijuana and methamphetamine from California for distribution in Pennsylvania. The charges were dismissed for lack of evidence, refiled in 1993, and dismissed again on other procedural grounds.

The couple eventually separated, and Bonnie Rakoczy returned to using her maiden name, Siner, before becoming engaged to Richard L. Sweeten, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation employee whom she called Larry. Before their marriage in 2005, the couple started a landscaping business called L&B Lawn Maintenance - L&B presumably for Larry and Bonnie.

Back then, said Michael Markloff, 20, who worked for the couple, Bonnie Siner was living in the Eastern Dawn Mobile Home Park, while Larry Sweeten lived with his parents on Boston Avenue.

He recalled Bonnie Siner as down to earth, friendly, and intelligent, often donning jeans and an old T-shirt to pitch in with the work.

"Just your normal, 30-year-old household mom," Markloff said. "If what they are saying about her now is true, I just don't know what to think."

A year after the Sweetens married, and with the landscaping business under way, they took a big financial leap - the first of many that might have led to Bonnie Sweeten's undoing - by purchasing a $424,978 four-bedroom house on Saxon Drive in Lower Southampton with a hefty $403,729 mortgage.

The family of four moved in 21/2 years ago with Bonnie Sweeten's two daughters from her first marriage: Julia, now 9, whom she took to Florida, and Paige, now 15. Eight months ago, she gave birth to another daughter, Faith, after spending tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments, police said.

With Bonnie Sweeten handling the family finances, her husband has said, he had no idea what was going on with their money.

Sweeten's Facebook pages give a peek at her life as a busy suburban mom. In them, she says she loves to shop with her daughters and go snowmobiling with friends in Colorado. Her favorite TV show is Top Chef and her favorite movie Pretty Woman, about a prostitute who falls in love with a wealthy man. She doesn't like to read "at all" and always tells her two older daughters to "make good choices."

Sweeten's taste for the good life can be seen in the car she drove - a 2005 GMC Yukon Denali SUV worth about $50,000 new - and the hotel she checked into with her daughter in Disney World, the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, the crown jewel of the theme parks' hotels, where rates start at $399 a night.

Larry Sweeten, appearing Friday morning on NBC's Today show, said that his wife tried to call collect twice Thursday night from jail, but that his cellular service would not accept the charges.

When he first heard about the reported abduction, he reacted as if it were true.

"I drove up and down Street Road, where she said it happened. I called the father of her other children. I called my dad. I had as many people out as I could. . . . We were searching everywhere."

When he found out she was in Disney World, "I was just trying to find out what was going on, like everybody else. I just hope that everybody out there doesn't believe everything that they're hearing. Everybody who knows her knows she's a great person, and these rumors can't be true."

Neighbors were left to wonder what was true about the woman they had come to know and like in the last few years. On Friday, kids played in the cul-de-sac in front of the Sweetens' two-story house, which has a Welcome sign and wreath on the double front door. Nearby were wheelbarrows and stone that Larry Sweeten was using to build a deck and patio.

A woman peeked out the front window at the reporters and TV vans camped out front.

Fred Goodson, 40, whose children play with Bonnie Sweeten's daughter Julia, said Sweeten bought birthday presents for all the kids in the neighborhood and frequently hosted neighborhood yard parties.

"She's a great, great lady," he said.

Her recent actions seemed way out of character, he said, describing Sweeten as friendly and genuine.

"I doubt you would come across anyone who said she is a terrible mother," he added.

Another woman, Denise Faul, said that she was "shocked" and that "Bonnie is a great neighbor."

Sweeten's friends on Facebook were also supportive and seemed willing to forgive her for the frantic hours they spent thinking that she and her daughter had been kidnapped.

A note from Sweeten's older daughter, Paige, showed just how traumatic the episode has been for those closest to her:

"Mom I know you cant read this but your my whole life your my mommy that's a big role you made me the person I am today . . . your maybe just in a bad place for whatever reason, im not mad i hold nothing against you, i just wanna see you and hug you and just be with you again, i wish I would of hugged you longer Tuesday or even just said i love you more . . . just come OK & I love you, so much but im sure you know that."