Weeks before Bonnie Sweeten took off for Florida with her 9-year-old daughter 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 a relative of her ex-husband's, 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 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."
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 Pennsylvania detectives - one from the Bucks County District Attorney's Office, the other from the Upper Southampton Police Department - flew to Orlando, Fla., yesterday with the intent of escorting Sweeten back to the state.
The timing of Sweeten's return might depend on whether she volunteers to go with the detectives or fights extradition in Florida. The Orange County Sheriff's Office in Florida said Sweeten was not expected to fight her return.
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.
Henry said it was unlikely that the detectives would return with her before today.
Sweeten was held last night as a fugitive in the women's section of the Orange County prison.
Her daughter had been picked up hours earlier by her father, Anthony Rakoczy, who has been divorced from Sweeten since 2003. He landed at Orlando International Airport late yesterday morning and apparently went straight to the Sheriff's Office.
Rakoczy was accompanied by at least one representative of the ABC network, which the Sheriff's Office said had paid for Rakoczy's flight to Orlando. Hours later, he and Julia emerged from the Sheriff's Office.
Shortly after 7:30 last night, father and daughter arrived at Philadelphia International Airport on a US Airways flight. They were escorted off the plane and out of the airport, bypassing the regular exit.
In Pennsylvania, authorities said they were only beginning to look into sketchy reports that Sweeten might have been involved in thefts. Some of the reports surfaced as police looked for 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, one or more of those accounts were 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.
The detective said police were looking into whether Sweeten, before or afterward, might have taken several thousand dollars from the account. They had not made a determination.
Jenkinson, 29, gave no hint in an interview yesterday that she felt she had been robbed.
"She said since the law firm was closing, the company was charging us a fee to keep the accounts open," Jenkinson said. "The money was being put into another account."
The women had worked together for nine years at the law firm, where Jenkinson was a receptionist and then a legal assistant.
Sweeten was a paralegal. Jenkinson said that after the law firm closed in September, her contact with Sweeten was minimal.
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."