PHILADELPHIA – A woman accused of staging an abduction hoax that began near Philadelphia and ended at Florida's Walt Disney World was returned to Pennsylvania in police custody on Friday and was held on $1 million bail.
A drained-looking Bonnie Sweeten appeared in an Orlando, Fla., courtroom for a brief hearing Friday morning before detectives from Bucks County, Pa., escorted her to the airport for the flight home.
On Friday night she was taken to a court in the Philadelphia suburb of Richboro for an arraignment on misdemeanor identity theft and false-reporting charges. A judge, in setting the bail, said he thought she was a flight risk.
Click here for photos.
Sweeten can be released if she posts 10 percent of the bail amount, or $100,000.
Defense lawyer Louis R. Busico told reporters before the court appearance that Sweeten, 38, is not a flight risk and was not running from the law when she went to Florida with her 9-year-old daughter.
"It's not a crime to take your kid to Disney World," Busico said.
Local police also are investigating whether Sweeten stole money from a family member or others, but no related charges have been filed.
Sweeten phoned 911 on Tuesday from downtown Philadelphia and told dispatchers that she and her daughter had been carjacked and stuffed in the trunk of a Cadillac near their suburban home. The call touched off a frantic search that ended 30 hours later at a Disney World hotel.
Sweeten had withdrawn $12,000 from several bank accounts and flown to Florida with her daughter under the name of a former co-worker whose driver's license she had taken in a ruse, authorities said. She paid cash for the one-way tickets and for a three-night hotel stay inside the park.
Some law enforcement officials privately questioned the ease with which she bought the airline tickets and flew under the friend's name. A Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman argued that Sweeten bore a "strong resemblance" to the other woman.
"The key point here is that every individual, regardless of what name they use, is being thoroughly screened at the checkpoint to make sure that they don't have any guns and explosives," said Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman in Boston.
Neither the county prosecutor nor county detectives handling the case returned phone messages Friday about the pending theft investigation, something authorities confirmed earlier in the week.
Sweeten and her husband, landscaper Richard L. "Larry" Sweeten, bought a newly constructed, 2400-square-foot home in late 2006 for $425,000. She has two other daughters, ages 15 years and 8 months.
Middle daughter Julia Rakoczy is back in Pennsylvania after being reunited with her father, Anthony Rakoczy, at an Orlando police station on Thursday afternoon. Rakoczy still lives near Sweeten, his ex-wife, and spoke well of her in interviews this week.
Larry Sweeten said that he is struggling to sort out the rumors of theft and marriage problems surrounding the case. Appearing Friday on NBC's "Today" show, he said he wanted to know "more than anybody" what caused his wife to flee. He was unaware of any money problems but said she handled nearly all of their finances.
"I might be behind on my mortgage," Sweeten said.