Image: Bonnie Sweeten
Bonnie Sweeten, shown in image from the Sheriff's Department in Orange County, Fla., faces charges in connection with the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients and colleagues at the law office where she worked.
updated 5/20/2010 8:06:16 PM ET 2010-05-21T00:06:16

A suburban mother once at the center of a national abduction hoax stole more than $700,000 from clients and colleagues at the law office where she worked and posed as her boss before fleeing to Disney World, a grand jury charged Thursday.

Bonnie Sweeten was accused in a 23-count indictment of offenses including fraud, money laundering and identity theft between 2005 and 2009.

Sweeten, a paralegal and office manager from Feasterville, diverted money from clients' legal settlements and other accounts to spend on clothing, jewelry, tanning salons, gym usage, electronics and mortgage payments, prosecutors said. She also fabricated and forged documents including a court order, a driver's license, a passport and mortgage paperwork, an indictment said.

A telephone message left with an attorney for Sweeten was not immediately returned Thursday.

Suspect already in prison
Sweeten, 39, is serving a nine- to 23-month sentence at the Bucks County prison after pleading guilty to identity theft and filing a false police report in connection with last year's hoax.

Sweeten abandoned her car in Philadelphia and called 911 to say she and her daughter had been kidnapped, but she actually fled to Orlando, Fla., and Disney World.

At the time, Sweeten was being investigated for possibly swindling $280,000 from her ex-husband's 92-year-old grandfather.

The indictment alleges Sweeten stole funds from an elderly relative to repay a law firm client whose settlement money she had previously diverted for personal use. When family members demanded repayment of the relative's money, Sweeten wrote a check from an account with insufficient funds, prosecutors said.

Stolen ID used to board plane
Sweeten used a co-worker's identity to board a plane on May 26, the day the check bounced. The FBI arrested her at Disney World two days later.

Sweeten's employer also was a victim, prosecutors said. Sweeten posed as her employer to obtain a mortgage on the law office's property, a loan she used to repay a previous debt, the indictment said. She also stole money from her employer's pension account, it said.

An attorney for Debbie Carlitz, who owned the Feasterville law firm, thanked authorities on Thursday.

"Ms. Carlitz is very grateful for the thorough investigation and diligent effort by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in bringing this case, and she will continue to do all she can to cooperate with the government to see that justice is done," lawyer Ellen Brotman said.

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