LOS ANGELES - Harry Burkhart watched as his mother was arrested last week on fraud charges brought by their native Germany, and a day later he exploded in an expletive-laced rant against the United States at her court hearing.
After that, authorities allege, Burkhart, angry over his mother's legal troubles, went on a nighttime rampage of arson attacks that terrorized Los Angeles and caused an estimated $3 million in damage.
Court documents unsealed Tuesday said Dorothee Burkhart, who is in her 50s, was charged with 19 counts of fraud in Frankfurt, including failing to pay for 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 was 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.
Harry Burkhart, 24, was being held without bail Tuesday after being arrested in the arson case Monday. His mother also is being held without bail, and her next court hearing was delayed until Friday so she can hire an attorney.
Outside Harry Burkhart's Hollywood apartment, some neighbors described him as a loner who loitered around the busy commercial strip at night and could be heard arguing with his mother.
But Shlomo Elady, a hair stylist who regularly trimmed Burkhart's long hair, recalled someone who spoke three languages, dreamed of visiting Jerusalem and cared for a sickly mother who had trouble walking.
Elady said he was stunned that the man who lived with his mother above his Sunset Boulevard shop was suspected of torching vehicles, some just steps from his home.
"He loved his mom, the way every son loves his mom," Elady said. "He's not a creepy guy."
Tip from federal officials
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.
"When they saw the security footage, they recognized him and they contacted the arson task force," a State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigations are ongoing.
Burkhart arrived in the United States in October, and his nonimmigrant 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.
A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the case, said Harry 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.
During the hearing for his mother last Thursday, Harry Burkhart launched into an obscenity-laden tirade against the United States, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman at the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.
No specific threats
Mrozek said Burkhart was detained and later escorted out of the courthouse. He said Burkhart did not make any specific threats against anyone or any property at his mother's court hearing.
The series of fires stopped with Burkhart's arrest.
Since Friday morning, at least 50 fires were set, mostly in the Hollywood area, but some also in the San Fernando Valley.
Many of the blazes were in carports and driveways and spread to apartment buildings and homes.
Los Angeles police said they found fire-starting materials in Burkhart's minivan during his arrest Monday.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.