Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A German man was charged Wednesday with 37 counts of arson in connection with a rash of fires that terrorized Los Angeles over the New Year’s weekend.
Harry Burkhart, 24, was charged with 28 counts of arson of property and nine counts of arson of an inhabited structure, District Attorney Steve Cooley said.
The complaint also alleged the arson was caused by the use of a device designed to accelerate the fire, he said.
Burkhart’s arraignment late Wednesday was postponed until Jan. 24. He was ordered held on $2.85 million bail.
Prosecutors did not immediately say what kind of sentencing would apply if Burkhart is convicted of all counts.
Burkhart is suspected of setting more than 50 blazes that caused an estimated $3 million in damage. He has refused to cooperate with investigators since his arrest on Monday.
“The investigation of the 52 fires believed connected to this defendant is not over,” Cooley said in a statement.
The charges are based on fires in the Hollywood and Sherman Oaks sections of Los Angeles and the city of West Hollywood.
Authorities said they believe he was angry over his mother’s legal troubles and went on a nighttime rampage of burning parked cars a day after she appeared in court last week.
Burkhart has been put on suicide watch, a law enforcement official said Wednesday. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of privacy issues.
Burkhart’s mother, Dorothee Burkhart, said in court Tuesday that her son is mentally ill.
Harry Burkhart’s background remains hazy. The Los Angeles district attorney’s office statement said he travels on a German passport “but purportedly was born in Chechnya” and was staying with his mother in Hollywood. The statement did not elaborate.
Harry Burkhart is also under investigation in Germany for a house fire north of Frankfurt days before he traveled to the U.S. in October.
The fire at the house, which belonged to the Burkhart family, has been ruled an arson, Marburg prosecutors’ spokeswoman Annemarie Wied told The Associated Press Wednesday.
Burkhart did not live in the area, but his name surfaced as a suspect after he filed an insurance claim shortly after the fire, Wied said.
“When one files an insurance claim on a house the same day it burns down, it raises eyebrows,” she said.
Burkhart, whom Wied identified only as “Harry B.” in keeping with German privacy laws, has not yet been questioned in the case and no arrest warrant has been issued for him. She said she did not know how long ago he had been identified as a suspect in the arson investigation.
Burkhart was in Los Angeles by Oct. 26 — 12 days after the Marburg area fire — according to U.S. court papers, which say that he went with his mother on that day to the German consulate to renew his passport.
During a court appearance in federal court Tuesday, Dorothee Burkhart scanned a Los Angeles courtroom looking for her son, apparently unaware he was also behind bars less than two miles away.
“Can you bring my son inside?” she pleaded with court officials. “Where is my son?”
Court documents were unsealed Tuesday that revealed she is charged in Germany with 19 counts of fraud, including failing to pay for a 2004 breast-augmentation surgery and pilfering security deposits from renters.
In a brief court appearance, she appeared perplexed, wondering aloud if her son had disappeared or was dead. At one point, she said, he is mentally ill and questioned whether Nazis knew where she and her son lived.
“What did you do to my son?” she asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle.
“I’m not here to address anything related to your son,” Nagle responded.
Frankfurt court spokesman Guenther Meilinger told the AP that Dorothee Burkhart will go on trial for the fraud charges once she is extradited back to Germany.
“We expect and hope that the U.S. authorities will look into the request for extradition … so that the proceedings against her can continue,” he said.
Both mother and son are being held without bail. Her next court hearing was delayed until Friday so she can hire an attorney.
Harry Burkhart was taken into custody after authorities received a tip from federal officials who recognized him in a security video that showed a pony-tailed man emerging from a garage where a car was set ablaze.
Burkhart’s non-immigrant visa is set to expire Jan. 18, authorities said. His mother last entered the country lawfully in January 2007 and she left four months later, officials said.
Associated Press writers Dorothee Thiesing in Frankfurt and Bradley Klapper and Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report. Rising reported from Berlin.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)