Accused L.A. Arsonist Recognized by State Department Agent

A State Department agent recognized accused arsonist, Harry Burkhart.

ByABC News
January 3, 2012, 3:48 AM

Jan. 3, 2012— -- The German man who authorities have called "the most dangerous arsonist in L.A. history" was recognized on surveillance tape by a sharp-eyed State Department agent, officials said today.

An agent in the department's Diplomatic Security field office recognized accused arsonist Harry Burkhart, in the surveillance footage circulated by the Los Angeles Police Department as the son of a woman who was being extradited.

The agent, who was not being identified, contacted the LAPD, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told ABC News.

"Over the New Year's Eve weekend, that task force put out a video showing a person of interest exiting a parking lot and asked for the public's help," Nuland said.

The agent was familiar with Burkhart because of a "separate ongoing investigation about a German national that we've been having with the LAPD," she said. The tip led to Burkhart's arrest, Nuland said.

Burkhart, 24, will appear in court Wednesday to face charges that he allegedly set a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area over the past four days.

Authorities said they were "very confident" in the arrest of Burkhart, who told police officers, "I hate America" as they placed him under arrest.

Burkhart, a German national, may have been motivated by his anger at U.S. immigration authorities that stemmed from a deportation hearing involving his mother, Dorothee, that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago, sources told ABC News.

Burkhart broke into in a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements, during the hearing for his mother, before being escorted from the courtroom by U.S. Marshalls, officials told ABC News.

Officials said he shouted "F... the United States" during the Dec. 29 hearing, one day before he disappeared and the fires in Hollywood began.

According to a redacted criminal complaint that was unsealed today, Burkhart's mother was facing extradition because she pilfered rent security deposits and had skipped out on paying for a breast augmentation surgery.

Today, Burkhart's mother was in federal court again for a hearing, she is facing 19 counts of fraud in Germany. During her court appearance she reportedly appeared perplexed and asked the judge where her son was, even stating that he is mentally ill.

Burkhart was traced by his identifying ponytail and the Canadian license plates on his van.

Los Angeles Police Deputy Shervin Lalezary spotted a minivan Monday with British Columbia plates that matched the description of a vehicle seen at several of the vehicle and carport fires ignited around Hollywood and West Hollywood, beginning Dec. 30.

When Lalezary initiated a traffic stop, he discovered the van's driver, Burkhart, also resembled the person of interest seen in a videotape released by the multi-agency arson task force assigned to the case. Grainy security footage from a parking garage that was set on fire showed a man in a ponytail, too.

Police seized flammable materials that matched the materials used in the blazes during the search of the minivan, according to sources.

Initially identified by police as a person of interest, Burkhart soon became a prime suspect. He was detained and questioned and, after subsequent interviews with police, was arrested.

On Monday afternoon he was charged with one count of arson of an inhabited dwelling, with more charges expected as the investigation proceeds, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

Burkhart is currently being held on $250,000 bail.

The fires were mostly ignited around vehicles, and then spread to structures, eventually causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Since Burkhart's arrest on Monday, there have been no new fires set in the Los Angeles area.

Burkhart was uncooperative and was to be asked to sit for a polygraph as part of the investigation, sources said on Monday afternoon. Warrants for a search of the suspect's residence were in the process of being executed.