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U.S. attorney seeks 10 years prison for "master con-woman"

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania woman who faked her own kidnapping while actually at Disney World and stole more than $1 million is a "master con-woman" who should go to prison for 10 years, prosecutors said on Thursday.

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.

"Sweeten is a master con-woman who committed crime after crime, and told lie after lie," the U.S. Attorney's office said in a sentencing statement.

Prosecutors laid out their case on Thursday at the start of a sentencing hearing for Sweeten, a former law office manager who pleaded guilty to defrauding several people, including her boss.

Federal Judge William Yohn Jr. will consider the hearing testimony when he sentences Sweeten, who has been in federal custody for about two years.

Much of the day's testimony in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia centered on the exact amount that she stole, since federal sentencing guidelines are harsher for frauds of more than $1 million.

Sweeten was sentenced to up to 12 months in Bucks County jail after admitting to the kidnapping ruse. Prosecutors argue she should get the maximum penalty of 10 years in prison in the federal fraud case, arguing she stole more than $1 million.

"Bonnie Sweeten stole money from family, co-workers and clients," prosecutors said in court documents.

Her defense attorneys are seeking a sentence of less than 7 years on the basis that she stole less than $1 million.

The once fashionable Sweeten, who prosecutors said spent some of the stolen money on a shopping spree, appeared in court handcuffed and wearing a baggy green prison suit, her one-time blond locks now black.

Among those Sweeten has admitted cheating is her former boss, Debbie Carlitz, who ran a small law practice in suburban Feasterville. Carlitz said she had a friendly relationship with Sweeten, who as office manager handled the firm's financial accounts and payroll.

"I shared information with her. She knew about my life, and I knew about hers, or at least I thought I did," Carlitz told the judge.

Yohn continued the sentencing hearing to an unspecified future date.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)