A Bucks County magistrate late last night set bail at $1 million for Bonnie Sweeten, the Feasterville woman who drew national attention with a fake claim that she and her 9-year-old daughter had been kidnapped when instead she had fled to Walt Disney World.
As TV news helicopters circled above, a tearful Sweeten arrived in the back seat of a patrol car and was led to the District Court in Richboro. About a dozen supporters, including her current and former husbands, shouted: "We love you Bonnie" and "Bonnie, we are here."
Shortly after Sweeten entered the courthouse, her 15-year-old daughter Paige posted a message on Facebook from her mobile phone: "welcome back to philly, mommy we love you so much and i miss you, cant wait too see your face, hopefully soon."
Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry told District Judge William J. Benz that Sweeten, a mother of three, was a flight risk.
"Her intent was not to come back to the area," Henry said of Sweeten's aborted trip to Florida.
In asking for high bail, Henry also alluded to an ongoing investigation, presumably into the the theft allegations swirling around Sweeten.
Sweeten's lawyer, Louis R. Busico, argued that she was not a flight risk, was only facing two misdemeanors, and the results of ongoing investigations should not factor into the bail determination. She pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges: making a false report to police and identity theft.
Her family and supporters must come up with 10 percent of the bail if Sweeten is to be set free. In the meantime, she was taken to Bucks County Prison for processing.
The judge also ordered that she be supervised by an adult when she is able to visit her three daughters.
Outside the courtroom, Busico said, "I expect them to work very diligently to make bail."
Earlier, while waiting for his client to arrive, Busico told reporters: "She is going nowhere and she is not a danger.
"She wasn't running. It's not a crime to take your kid to Disney World."
Sweeten set off a law enforcement and media frenzy Tuesday afternoon when she called 911 to say that she and her daughter had been kidnapped and put into the trunk of a Cadillac by two black men during a carjacking in Upper Southampton. Her claim eventually triggered a regional Amber Alert for the missing child and resulted in a hunt led by the FBI in Pennsylvania and in Florida.
The search ended Wednesday night when the FBI found mother and child in an expensive hotel at Disney World. FBI spokesman J.J. Klaver said yesterday that with Sweeten's discovery and arrest in Florida, the bureau had no further involvement in the case.
Last night's arraignment was came at the end of a long day that began with a 9 a.m. hearing in Florida, at the Orange County jail's booking and receiving center, where she waived extradition.
Looking drawn and worried, dressed in a dark-blue jail uniform with her hair loose around her shoulders, Sweeten bit her lips during the brief appearance and said nothing other than "yes" to Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Senior Judge Charles Prather's questions. She also thanked the judge at the end of the hearing.
During the 35 hours or so Sweeten that spent in jail, she made seven phone calls, according to the jail log, mostly to her husband, Richard L. Sweeten Jr., and all during a short period on Thursday night.
None of the calls was completed. In some instances the collect charge was not accepted. On several other calls, Sweeten apparently hung up before they were answered.
Reporters also waited outside the Sweeten home in the Saxon Meadow development in Feasterville, and the nearby home of her ex-husband, Anthony Rakoczy. No one was available to comment at either home.
Busico said the girls are staying with their respective fathers. Her two oldest daughters, 9-year-old Julia and 15-year-old Paige, are from her marriage with Rakoczy. Her youngest daughter, 8-month-old Faith, is the child of her current marriage.
Law enforcement officials have said that Sweeten, who, according to a police affidavit, withdrew $12,200 from accounts at two Wachovia Bank branches in Bucks County in the days before her false 911 report, may have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The alleged thefts may have involved clients of the law firm where she worked, family members, or both. According to a police detective with knowledge of the investigation, one or more of the accounts were in the names of Sweeten's parents.
Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry said a decision on filing felony theft charges was not imminent. Henry said that the investigation into possible theft charges "will take some time," and that there certainly would be no charges brought immedately.
"You're talking about going through a lot of financial records," she said. She would not comment on whether investigators were focused on thefts from current or former family members, or clients of the law firm where Sweeten worked.
Sweeten, a paralegal married to a state Department of Transportation worker who runs a landscaping service on the side, appeared to be living beyond her means. The couple took out a 30-year, $403,729 mortgage in 2006 to buy their four-bedroom, two-bath house.
The GMC Yukon Denali she allegedly ditched in Center City en route to Florida would have cost around $50,000 new.
Police investigators have also told reporters that Sweeten had been spending tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments.
Sweeten had worked for many years for suspended personal-injury lawyer Debbie A. Carlitz, who has accused Sweeten of stealing from her law firm. The firm closed last year after Carlitz's license to practice law was suspended for one year and one day for practicing law while ineligible to do so, having failed to keep up with continuing legal-education requirements.
A lawyer for Carlitz has said that the district attorney's probe also was looking into Sweeten's conduct with the Carlitz Foundation, formed in October to support children's charities. Lawyer Ellen C. Brotman has described Carlitz as "shocked and devastated" by Sweeten's alleged actions.
Contact staff writer Larry King at 215-345-0446 or email@example.com.