LOS ANGELES — Harry Burkhart watched as his mother was arrested last week on fraud charges from their native Germany, and a day later he exploded in an expletive-laced rant against the U.S. at her court hearing.
Authorities think that Mr. Burkhart, angry over his mother’s legal troubles, then went on a nighttime rampage of arson attacks that terrorized Los Angeles and caused $3 million in damage.
Court documents unsealed Tuesday said that Dorothee Burkhart, who is in her 50s, was charged with 19 counts of fraud in Frankfurt, Germany, including failure to pay for a 2004 breast-augmentation surgery and pilfering security deposits from renters.
In a brief court appearance, she appeared perplexed and wondered aloud whether her son was dead. At one point, she said he is mentally ill and questioned whether Nazis knew where she and her son lived.
“Where is my son? What did you do to my son?” she asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle.
Mr. Burkhart, a 24-year-old ponytailed resident of Hollywood, was being held without bail after being arrested in the arson case Monday. His mother also is being held without bail, and her court hearing was delayed until Friday so she can hire an attorney.
Mr. Burkhart was taken into custody after authorities received a tip from federal officials who recognized him in a security video that showed a man with a ponytail emerging from a garage where a car was set ablaze.
“When they saw the security footage, they recognized him, and they contacted the arson task force,” a State Department official told the Associated Press, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigations are continuing.
A federal law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the case, said Mr. Burkhart was present when his mother was arrested Dec. 28 on a provisional arrest warrant.
Provisional arrest warrants are normally issued when there are criminal charges pending overseas against someone. Ordinarily, U.S. authorities then obtain an arrest warrant through the State Department and the Justice Department.
At Thursday afternoon’s hearing, Mr. Burkhart launched into an obscenity-laden tirade, saying “F— the United States!” said Thom Mrozek, spokesman at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.
A law enforcement official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said authorities believe Mr. Burkhart went on the arson spree because he was angry over his mother’s legal troubles.
Galina Illarionova, who lives in the same apartment complex as the suspect, said through a Russian translator that an agitated Mr. Burkhart visited her Sunday and said his mother was having some kind of legal problems. He wanted Ms. Illarionova to attend a legal hearing with him, but he later said he didn’t need her help.