ORLANDO, Fla. - Bonnie Sweeten agreed today to return to Pennsylvania to face charges she faked her kidnapping and that of her daughter and used a friend's driver's license to buy airline tickets for a trip to Disney World.
Looking drawn and worried, Sweeten, 38, of Feasterville, waived extradition at a brief hearing at the Orange County Jail.
Wearing a blue jail uniform, her hair hanging loose, Sweeten answered with a simple "yes" to questions posed by Florida Circuit Court Senior Judge Charles Prather and ended her appearance by saying, "Thank, you."
More than three hours later, Sweeten left the jail under guard, apparently headed for the airport and a flight to Philadelphia.
The charges she now faces - filing a false report and identity theft - are misdemeanors.
Weeks before Sweeten took off for Florida with her 9-year-old daughter Julia Rakoczy on Tuesday, authorities in Bucks County looked into an allegation that she might have stolen $300,000 or more from an investment account belonging to one of her ex-husband's relatives, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.
The inquiry went nowhere because the purported victim declined to cooperate with authorities and hoped to get back any missing money from Sweeten directly, said a detective who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
The old allegation is part of a broad police inquiry into reports that Sweeten might have taken money from financial accounts belonging to several people, including her parents, her former employer and a former co-worker at a law firm.
Michelle Henry, the Bucks County district attorney, confirmed the existence of "an ongoing investigation" into possible theft by Sweeten.
"We essentially are looking at where the money came from that [Sweeten] used to sort of fuel this trip" to Florida, Henry said, "and whether or not it was legitimately obtained."
Her husband, Richard L. "Larry" Sweeten, said he is struggling to sort out the reports of theft and marriage problems surrounding her disappearance.
On NBC's Today show this morning, he said he wanted to know "more than anybody" what caused his wife to flee with her daughter.
Authorities have suggested that Sweeten was suffering from both domestic and financial concerns, but Sweeten said he doesn't think they have serious problems.
"We argue, like everybody else does," he said, but added the family had a fun-filled Memorial Day weekend together before his wife disappeared.
Larry Sweeten said his wife handled the family's finances, but said he'll now be looking into his bank accounts.
"I might be behind on my mortgage," he said.
Some aspects of the investigation predated the frenzy of police activity that Sweeten set off Tuesday when she made a 911 call falsely reporting that she and her middle child, Julia, had been kidnapped in Upper Southampton, Henry said.
The call set off a regional Ambler Alert for the missing child and led to a hunt for her in Pennsylvania and Florida.
By the time the FBI found the mother and child at an expensive hotel in Disney World on Wednesday night, the made-up story of the abduction had become a national news story and persistent fodder for network TV and the 24-hour cable shows.
Two detectives - one from the Bucks County District Attorney's Office, the other from the Upper Southampton Police Department - flew to Orlando yesterday with the intent of escorting Sweeten back to the state.
Once back in Pennsylvania, officials said, Sweeten will be arraigned in Bucks County on charges of filing a false police report and identity theft, both misdemeanors.
Her daughter Julia returned home last night in the company of her father, Anthony Rakoczy, who has been divorced from Sweeten since 2003.
Pennsylvania authorities said they are only beginning to look into sketchy reports that Sweeten might have been involved in thefts. Some of the reports surfaced as police sought clues into the purported kidnapping.
A police affidavit filed after Sweeten's arrest said she had withdrawn $12,200 from accounts at two Wachovia Bank branches in Bucks County in the days before her false 911 report.
According to the police detective with knowledge of the investigation, at least one of the accounts was in the name of Sweeten's parents.
He said Sweeten had power of attorney over the accounts, so it would be up to the District Attorney's Office to determine whether a theft charge might be warranted.
"But I'll say this," the detective added. "The parents didn't know about" the withdrawals.
An additional police inquiry into Sweeten's conduct was said to involve the report contained in the affidavit that she had used a former coworkers driver's license as identification in buying airplane tickets for her daughter and herself to Florida.
Police said Sweeten had asked to borrow the driver's license from Jillian Jenkinson of Feasterville for the purpose of rolling over a 401(k) investment account that belonged to Jenkinson. The two had worked together at Carlitz & Eisenberg, a law firm in Bucks County.
Sweeten's activities at the law firm are another area police reportedly are investigating. The detective said he did not know whether any thefts would be found.
Ellen C. Brotman, an attorney for one of Sweeten's former bosses, lawyer Debbie Ann Carlitz, said yesterday that she was aware of a criminal investigation into Sweeten's conduct with Carlitz's firm and with the Carlitz Foundation, which was formed in October to raise money for autism programs and other children's charities.
Sweeten is a paralegal and notary public. Both jobs - state records list Sweeten as the foundation's contact and "tax responsible party" - appear to have given her unusual access to the management and finances of the two business entities.
Brotman described the Carlitz Foundation as "a privately funded foundation" and said, "It was funded exclusively by the Carlitzes' money. The foundation has just been granted not-for-profit status and has not accepted any outside donor money."
Brotman said it would be inappropriate for her to discuss the investigation. But she said Carlitz was "shocked and devastated by the actions of her former trusted employee and believes the investigation is ongoing and it is inappropriate to comment any further until the investigation is complete."