Prison for woman who faked kidnapping, went to Disney World

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 26, 2012 3:03 PM
Prison for woman who faked kidnapping, went to Disney World

(Reuters) - A Pennsylvania woman who faked her own kidnapping while actually at Disney World was sentenced on Thursday to 100 months in prison for swindling her employer and family members out of more than $600,000.

At the sentencing in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, Bonnie Sweeten, 40, was ordered to prison for just over 8 years and to pay more than a $1 million in restitution, the U.S. Attorney's office in Philadelphia said in a statement.

"Sweeten stole funds from family members, from the law office where she had been employed and from the law firm's clients," the prosecutor's office said.

Bonnie Sweeten captured headlines in 2009 when she triggered an all-out search by federal and local authorities by making a phony 911 call to say she and her 9-year-old daughter had been kidnapped by two black men in a truck.

In reality, prosecutors said, the 40-year-old mother from suburban Bucks County had taken her daughter to Disney World.

She was previously sentenced to up to 12 months in Bucks County jail after admitting to the kidnapping ruse.

Hartman said the trick was part of the larger fraud for which she was sentenced to 8 years and 4 months on Thursday.

"As part of her scheme to defraud, Sweeten concocted an elaborate hoax that she and her daughter had been kidnapped in order to deceive family members and law enforcement as to her whereabouts," the prosecutor's office said in the statement.

Sweeten's lawyers had asked for a sentence of less than 7 years in prison. Prosecutors had asked for 10 years behind bars.

The total amount of the fraud was a matter of debate throughout the days long sentencing hearing.

After Sweeten was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William Yohn, Jr., the prosecutor released the statement saying she stole more than $600,000 through various schemes that involved identity theft and forged signatures on documents.

"She also forged a signature of a judge on a court order for the purpose of fraudulently withdrawing client funds from a bank," the prosecutor's office said.

(Reporting By Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Paul Thomasch)