Missing mom, daughter found at Disney World

May 27, 2009 9:51:04 PM PDT
A woman who vanished after calling 911 to say she had been abducted and stuffed in the trunk of a car along with her young daughter faked the abduction, booked a flight to Orlando, where she checked into a hotel under an alias and then took her daughter to visit a Disney theme park, officials said. Bonnie Sweeten, 38, and her 9-year-old daughter, Julia Rakoczy, were located at Disney World on Wednesday, ending a 24-hour ordeal that began with a 9-1-1 call reporting a kidnapping.

Sweeten called police on Tuesday claiming that she and her daughter had been abducted.

Police found the SUV belonging to Sweeten, 38, early Wednesday morning at 15th and Chestnut in Center City Philadelphia.

Throughout the day, investigators became increasingly skeptical of the alleged abduction. They confirmed that the call was made most likely not from the suburb of Philadelphia 25 miles away where she lived, but from Center City, which is why it went to a cell phone repeater there and to the Philadelphia PD 911 system.

The vehicle, a GMC Yukon Denali, had a parking ticket on it with a time stamp of 2:20 p.m. Tuesday.

Investigators say Sweeten called them just before 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, saying she and her daughter had been kidnapped after a traffic crash in Upper Southampton, Pa.

That 20 minute window would be an incredibly tight timeframe to get from the suburban town to the heart of the city.

Furthermore, police say they traced Sweeten's first 911 call to a cell phone tower near the location where the SUV was found, indicating it may have been there the entire time.

Authorities said airport surveillance cameras captured Sweeten and her daughter boarding a plane for Florida. From there, investigators tracked her to Orlando.

Sweeten was found at the Grand Floridian Hotel at Disney World on Wednesday evening.

Rakoczy was with her at the time. Authorities said her biological father would be taking her home from Florida.

Sweeten has been charged with filing false reports and ID theft. She will be extradited to Bucks County to face prosecution

During the course of the investigation, authorities learned that Sweeten told her co-worker on early Tuesday that she needed her driver's license to do something with her pension plan. The co-worker believed the story and handed over her license. Sweeten took that license and proceeded to Philadelphia International Airport, where she and her daughter boarded a US Airways flight to Orlando.

Sweeten flew to Florida, checked into the Grand Floridian Hotel at Disney World. Following several leads on Wednesday, the FBI set up surveillance at Disney. Once she was spotted, Sweeten was arrested.

Authorities believe there were domestic problems with her husband at home, and she had financial problems, but that is still under investigation. The investigation revealed that before she left for Florida, Sweeten withdrew approximately $12,000 from various banks starting as early as last week.

Detectives were also investigating allegations that she may have taken about $300,000 from her former employer, an attorney in Upper Makefield Township, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

Out of concern for her safety and especially for safety of the nine-year-old with her, these sources tell ABC News, police and FBI in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs began mounting a full scale hunt visiting every motel in the area in an effort to locate her. Sweeten was described as scared, and investigators were worried about her emotional stability.

Investigators in Bucks County Tuesday night interviewed the attorney who employed Sweeten. While details were sketchy, the employer may not have known until very recently that the money was gone and that Sweeten was a potential suspect in its disappearance.

Sweeten has two other daughters, a 15-year-old from her prior marriage and an 8-month-old with her current husband, a landscaper.

Julia Rakoczy attended elementary school in Bensalem until she was withdrawn from classes May 1, said Susan Harder, an administrative assistant with the Bensalem Township School District.

Neighbors said the family had lived in their relatively new development for about two years. They paid about $425,000 for the house, according to property records.

Sweeten is listed as a director of a New Hope-based charity called The Carlitz Foundation, run by lawyer Debbie Carlitz. The charity's stated goal is raising money for autism research and for people in Burma. The Web site lists e-mail address for Sweeten and Carlitz, neither of whom returned e-mail messages Wednesday night. Carlitz, whose law license was suspended in 2008 for one year, also did not return a phone message.

"Bonnie was a very, very organized person," said Susan Cordeiro, secretary of the parent-teacher group at Belmont Hills Elementary School in Bensalem, which Julia had attended. "She was at every meeting, she was very involved. ... She's on top of her game all the time, even when she was pregnant."