Man charged with arson over LA fires

2012-01-05 12:01

Los Angeles - A German man accused of setting dozens of fires across Los Angeles that unnerved residents over the New Year's holiday weekend was charged with 37 counts of arson on Wednesday, prosecutors said.

Harry Burkhart, 24, who is also wanted in Germany on suspicion of burning down his home, was charged with 28 counts of arson of property and nine counts of arson of an inhabited structure, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said in a statement.

"The complaint also alleges that the arson was caused by use of a device designed to accelerate the fire," Cooley said. "If found true, the allegation could mean additional custody time for the defendant."

Burkhart, a German citizen, was being held under a suicide watch at the Los Angeles County Jail, according to a law enforcement official, and was expected to make an initial court appearance later on Wednesday.

State prosecutors in Germany said Burkhart was suspected of starting a fire that burned down his home in the city of Neukirchen.

"We are investigating against this 24-year-old man because of a fire in the Schwalm-Eder district," said German state prosecutor Annemarie Wied.

"He is accused of serious arson and suspected fraud. In the early hours of October 14, a timbered house went on fire in the Schwalm-Eder district and this person came under suspicion," Wied said.

Mother arrested

Burkhart's 53-year-old mother, Dorothee Burkhart, was arrested last week in the Los Angeles area on a provisional warrant issued by German authorities and was facing extradition.

The woman, who had been living in a Los Angeles apartment with her son, faces multiple charges of fraud and embezzlement in Germany, according to court documents.

She is accused of failing to pay a surgeon for breast augmentation as well as failing to return security deposits on rental properties she leased and accepting fees and deposits on apartment units she did not own, the court documents show.

The elder Burkhart, also a German citizen, made an initial court appearance in US District Court in Los Angeles on Tuesday. She was apparently unaware that her son had been arrested and asked a judge if the "German Nazis" were responsible for him disappearing.

There was conflicting information on how long Dorothee and Harry Burkhart have lived in the Los Angeles area.

A website for an erotic massage service based in Los Angeles is registered to a Dorothee Burkhart who shares the same address as Harry Burkhart. The site advertises topless but non-sexual sessions by appointment only.

Harry Burkhart was arrested after a tip from a member of the US State Department's Diplomatic Security field office who recognised him from an outburst during his mother's initial court hearing, a state department spokesperson said.

A man resembling Burkhart was captured on surveillance videotape leaving the scene of several of the fires, which caused no fatalities. One fire-fighter was injured and another person suffered from smoke inhalation.

One of the fires damaged a house in the Hollywood Hills where the late rocker Jim Morrison was inspired to write the 1968 song "Love Street" about his girlfriend.