Discuss as:

Mother says LA arson suspect is mentally ill

NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

LOS ANGELES -- The mother of a German man accused in a slew of arson attacks that terrorized the Hollywood area appeared in court Tuesday to answer to legal troubles of her own, including accusations that she skipped out on paying for a 2004 breast-augmentation surgery in her native country.

Dorothee Burkhart, the mother of Harry Burkhart, was arrested last week and on Tuesday had a brief extradition hearing in federal court related to a criminal warrant issued against her by the German government. The diminutive and heavy-set woman sat down and proceeded to ask about her son.

"Where is my son?" she asked. "He should come to the court, where is my son?"

When U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle opened the hearing, Dorothee Burkhart said she didn't want to be handcuffed. The judge granted her request.

Her second question was again about her son.

"What did you do to my son?"

The judge responded, "We are not here to do anything or talk about your son."

Burkhart said, "My son has disappeared. Maybe the Nazis know about my address and took him. He is mentally ill."

The judge brushed off her question before granting a continuance of the hearing to Friday.

Dorothee Burkhart was arrested Wednesday on fraud charges from her native Germany. At her initial hearing a day later, her son exploded in an expletive-laced rant against the United States.

The next day, police say, the 24-year-old began a nighttime rampage of arson attacks.

Authorities have yet to disclose why they believe that the pony-tailed Hollywood resident set the fires, but his mother's legal trouble provides one glimpse into the turmoil in his life.

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 a 2004 breast-augmentation surgery and pilfering security deposits from renters.

Harry Burkhart was being held without bail after being arrested in the arson case Monday.

Outside his 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 the Burkharts lived above his Sunset Boulevard shop. 

Elady said he was stunned that Harry Burkhart is suspected of torching vehicles, some just steps from his home. The fires caused an estimated $3 million in damage.

"He loved his mom, the way every son loves his mom," Elady said. "He's not a creepy guy."

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 told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigations are ongoing.

The official didn't know the mother's status or what type of visas the pair used to enter the country. As German citizens, they would be eligible to come to the U.S. without a visa for 90 days under the Visa Waiver Program.

A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Harry Burkhart was present when his mother was arrested Dec. 28 on a provisional 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 his mother's Thursday court hearing, Harry Burkhart launched into an obscenity-laden tirade, saying "(Expletive) the United States!" said Thom Mrozek, spokesman at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.

Mrozek said Burkhart was detained and later escorted out of the courthouse. He said Burkhart did not make any specific threats against anyone or property at his mother's court hearing.

Galina Illarionova, who lives in the same apartment complex as the suspect, said through a Russian translator that an agitated Burkhart visited her Sunday and said his mother was having some kind of legal problems.

He told her his mother was in trouble with authorities and wanted Illarionova to attend a legal hearing with him, but he later said he didn't need her help.

A domain name for a website offering appointment-only sensual massage is registered to Dorothee Burkhart. Her name is not mentioned on the website, which states the service is not prostitution.

The series of fires appeared to have stopped with Burkhart's arrest. The onslaught kept residents anxious over the holiday weekend in some of the most densely populated areas of the city.

One of Saturday's fires occurred at the Hollywood and Highland entertainment complex, a popular tourist destination bordered by the Walk of Fame in a neighborhood that includes Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Damaged buildings included a former home of Doors singer Jim Morrison.

No serious injuries were reported.

 This story contains information from NBC News and The Associated Press.

More content from msnbc.com and NBC News:

NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.