Feds tip LA on arson suspect

A suspect is under arrest in Los Angeles in connection with more than 50 fires that cost millions of dollars in property damage. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

Updated at 12:29 p.m. ET:

LOS ANGELES – A State Department official says a German man was identified as a suspect in the Los Angeles arsons because his mother was the subject of a provisional arrest request by Germany, The Associated Press reported.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigations are ongoing, the official told AP on Tuesday that authorities learned about Harry Burkhart while working on his mother’s case and recognized her 24-year-old son in security video of the arson suspect.

Los Angeles authorities were alerted and Burkhart was arrested Monday.

Another federal law enforcement said Burkhart was present when his mother, Dorothee, was arrested Dec. 28 by U.S. marshals and Los Angeles police. That official spoke anonymously because the official was not authorized to discuss the case.


LOS ANGELES – A man who was arrested in connection with a string of arson fires across the Los Angeles area reportedly told police officers, “I hate America,” when they put him in handcuffs on Monday.

According to a witness the suspect, 24-year-old Harry Burkhart from Germany, uttered the words as he was pulled over and arrested early Monday, L.A. Weekly reported.

Police made the arrest after a tip from federal officials who thought they recognized the grainy figure caught on a surveillance video near where a car fire was reported.

A “person of interest” detained in connection with 53 arson fires in the Hollywood area has been arrested and will be charged, officials said Monday. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

Burkhart was booked for investigation of arson of an inhabited dwelling. Since the arrest, firefighters have not responded to any other suspicious fires.

“Our long four-day nightmare is over,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported that police searched a home on West Sunset Boulevard Monday evening. According to witnesses, the search took place in a second-floor apartment above the Le Figaro Hairstyling hair salon, the Times said.

“I cut his hair just a week and a half ago,” said Shlomo Elady, a stylist at the salon who told the Times Burkhart had been customer for more than a year. “I’m in shock. He’s my client. I never saw any sign of trouble.”

Sam Mircovich / Reuters

Los Angeles County Reserve Deputy Sheriff Shervin Lalezary (right), who spotted the now detained man driving a van, smiles as he is introduced by Sheriff Lee Baca (left) during a news conference in Los Angeles Monday.

Police declined to reveal any motive for more than 50 fires that have occurred since Friday in Hollywood, neighboring West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, causing about $3 million in damage.

However, the 24-year-old, who told officers he’s from Frankfurt, may have been upset about his mother’s legal woes.

When asked at a news conference about reports that an immigration problem with Burhkart’s mother may have been a factor, authorities declined to comment.

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

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

‘Most dangerous arsonist’
“We are very confident in this arrest, but we have a long way to go,” said Police Chief Charlie Beck, who mentioned receiving information from federal authorities who recognized Burkhart from the video. They believed he had been involved in removal hearings in immigration court, but they didn’t specify how he was involved.

Burkhart, who is being held without bail, was described by Sheriff Lee Baca as the “most dangerous arsonist in Los Angeles County that I can recall.”

Authorities didn’t know how long he’s been in the United States and said he isn’t cooperating with them.

The onslaught of intentionally set fires left residents on edge over the holiday weekend in some of the most densely populated areas of the city.

Hundreds of investigators, police officers and firefighters raced to deal with the blazes. Police conducted extra patrols all weekend, and the noise of helicopters and sirens persisted virtually nonstop in Hollywood.

The blazes forced many apartment dwellers from their homes. But there were no serious injuries — one firefighter was hurt in a fall from a ladder, and another person suffered smoke inhalation.

Most of the fires began in cars, and authorities have not said how they were started.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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