The Bling Ring, sometimes called the ‘Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch,’ were a group, mostly of teenagers based in and around Calabasas, California, who burglarized the homes of several celebrities in 2008 – 2009. In total, their activities resulted in the theft of about $3 million in cash and belongings, most of it from Paris Hilton, whom they robbed several times. However, over 50 homes were reportedly targeted for potential burglary.
The alleged ringleader of the group, Rachel Lee is the daughter of divorced Korean immigrants. Both parents own successful businesses. Lee lived in Calabasas with her mother, who owns a franchise of Kumon, a tutoring company. Her father is based in Las Vegas. Lee and her older sister Candace had a privileged upbringing, and she drove an Audi A4 to school, where she was named ‘Best Dressed’ in the 2007 yearbook. A year after graduation, she was fined and put on probation for a petty theft incident in which she and a friend, Diana Tamayo, stole $85 of merchandise from a Sephora cosmetics store.
Diana Tamayo was, in 2008, the student body President at her school, where she had been voted ‘best smile.’ She was also known for getting into fights, and according to police is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. However, she was apparently affluent enough to own a Lincoln Navigator. Her entire wardrobe consisted of stolen items. Her small size was utilized during one robbery in which she gained the group access to a home by crawling through a dog door.
Johnny Ajar, a former convict nicknamed ‘Johnny Dangerous,’ is not believed to have participated in the burglaries, but was recruited by Ames, his girlfriend, to sell some of the stolen items for cash. He was raised in housing projects around Reseda, outside of the group’s community, the son of a father who was a career criminal and drug addict. He had previously spent two years in federal prison, having been convicted for drug trafficking in Wyoming at age 22. Ajar first met Ames and her friends at a nightclub called The Green Door and allowed them access, even though they used fake identification documents. At the time of the burglaries, he worked as a promoter for club Les Deux Café.
Alexis Neiers had been part of Lee’s social circle in schoolz. At one point, she was kicked out of her home by her mother for, according to police, smoking OxyContin. Prugo took her in, and she claims that although she knew her circle of friends were committing the crimes, she only became inadvertently involved when, while drunk, she unknowingly accompanied Nicholas Frank Prugo to what turned out to be a burglary of Orlando Bloom’s home.
Prugo was reported to be a shy and friendless teen prescribed Concerta for ADHD and Zoloft for anxiety. Lee befriended Prugo in school, and introduced him to most of the other people who would eventually join the crime spree. The two initially bonded over their love of fashion, and Prugo claims to have been infatuated with her. After being accepted into her circle of friends and participating in their nightlife activities, Prugo became hooked on drugs, and began stealing from his parents to support his addiction. Their first home robbery together occurred during the summer after tenth grade, when he claims that Lee suggested they rob an acquaintance from Woodland Hills whom Prugo knew to be out of town at the time. Prugo claims to have been reluctant, but didn’t want to risk losing her friendship. During that first burglary, they discovered $8000 in cash hidden under a bed. They split the money, and the next day went on a shopping spree on Rodeo Drive. Prugo and Lee began checking the doors of expensive cars parked in their neighborhood, to see if they were unlocked, on an almost nightly basis. They would take credit cards found in the cars, and go shopping the next day in areas like Melrose Avenue. They would be dressed well, and according to Prugo, merchants never questioned their use of the cards.
Courtney Ames, whose stepfather is boxer Randy Shields, was an ‘old friend” of Lee’s.’ It was through Ames that the others met Lopez and Ajar, her boyfriend. Lopez and Ames had worked together at a restaurant and bar in Calabasas. Ames had recruited him as a reseller, and he also participated in burgling at least one victim, Paris Hilton, from whom he is alleged to have stolen $2 million in jewelry, which he carried out with him in a Louis Vuitton bag. He was unable to sell most of it.
Victims were targeted due to their being considered fashion icons by members of the group. Their primary targets were female, having been chosen, in the words of Prugo, ‘mainly because [of] women wanting women’s stuff.’ If the members liked a celebrity’s style, they became determined to steal the celebrity’s clothes. Lee referred to their capers as ‘going shopping.’ They found the houses of their targets using Google Maps and website celebrityaddressaerial.com, and determined when the inhabitants would be away by researching their schedules, such as appearances at celebrity events, through websites including Facebook and Twitter. When Lee wanted to add to her wardrobe or more cash was desired, a burglary would be undertaken. The Los Angeles Police Department report later stated that what began as a ‘twisted adventure’ fueled by celebrity worship ‘quickly mushroomed into an organized criminal enterprise.’
For their first celebrity target, Prugo claims that he and Lee asked themselves ‘who would leave a door unlocked? Who would leave a lot of money lying around?,’ and chose Paris Hilton because they figured she was ‘dumb.’ On their maiden trip to Hilton’s home, Prugo and Lee went alone, having used Google Earth to find a place to access her community via a hill climb. They went up to the front door and tried ringing the doorbell to see if anyone was there. They discovered a key under the doormat, but then realized it wasn’t needed because the door was unlocked. Once inside, Prugo served as a lookout near the stairs while Lee went into the bedroom and searched through Hilton’s belongings. Prugo and Lee, later accompanied by other members of their group, ended up robbing Hilton at least five different times, mostly of designer clothing and cash. However, it wasn’t until Lopez single-handedly stole nearly $2 million in jewelry from Hilton that she reported having been burglarized. Antics during the Hilton robberies included snorting cocaine, which Prugo claims they found inside the residence. According to Ames, at one point Prugo discovered that he could fit into Hilton’s footwear, and did a ‘victory dance’ wearing a pair of her high heel shoes.
The ring burglarized the home of Audrina Patridge in 2009, on the night of that year’s Academy Awards ceremony. They accessed her home in Hollywood Hills by entering through an unlocked door, and took jewelry, her passport, her laptop computer, and custom-fit jeans. The value of what they took was estimated to amount to around $43,000. Lee and Prugo were recorded on Patridge’s surveillance videos, which she uploaded to her Web site. Despite the videos being posted, the burglaries continued.
Rachel Bilson’s home was burglarized by the group three to six times in 2009, amounting to between $130,000 and $300,000 of stolen property. Prugo claimed to have always been very nervous during the burglaries, but said that Lee was always very calm and focused — so much so that once during a burglary of Bilson’s home Lee used Bilson’s bathroom. The Bilson burglaries yielded so much in the way of clothes and accessories that members tried to relieve themselves of some of it by selling it at the Venice Beach boardwalk, where they were able to make a few thousand dollars.
Orlando Bloom’s home was targeted by the ring due to the presence of his then-live-in girlfriend (and now wife), Victoria’s Secret model Miranda Kerr, whose lingerie Lee wanted. Prugo, Neiers, Lee, and Tamayo accessed the premises by cutting through a security fence. Once inside, they found and stole a large amount of high fashion-label clothing, as well as Bloom’s Rolex watch collection, Louis Vuitton luggage, and artworks, all totaling nearly half a million dollars. Neiers, who denies having gone there knowingly, claimed to have been drunk at the time, and was reported as having gone outside to vomit and then urinate in the bushes. Tamayo and Lee went back inside because the latter was planning to move to her father’s home in Las Vegas, and wanted Bloom’s art to decorate with.
Brian Austin Green’s home was targeted, because, according to Prugo, Lee liked the clothes of his then live-in girlfriend, actress Megan Fox. While there, the group also found and took Green’s SIG Sauer .380 semi-automatic handgun, which police later found in the possession of Ajar.
Even though by the summer 2009 Lee had moved into her father’s place in Las Vegas, she felt compelled to return to California for yet another burglary, the target being Lindsay Lohan, who was apparently Lee’s ‘ultimate fashion icon’ and ‘biggest conquest.’ Lee, Prugo and Tamayo allegedly stole around $130,000 worth of clothes and jewelry from Lohan’s home in Hollywood Hills. According to Prugo, Tamayo and Lee were ‘freaking out’ over Lohan’s things. By that time, they were well-publicized criminals at large, and Prugo was especially worried about the burglary, knowing that if they were captured by surveillance cameras stealing from the star’s home, the footage would be widely seen.
An unidentified tipster informed police that Lee and Prugo were responsible for the Lohan burglary. Prugo’s face had been captured on surveillance at the home, and the police determined through Facebook that Lee and Prugo were friends. Prugo was arrested, and initially denied having had anything to do with the burglaries, but said that anxiety due to his involvement was preventing him from being able to eat, sleep, and breathe normally, and made him lose his hair. He confessed to the police without first getting a plea deal, telling them about crimes they were not even aware had been committed. He also told them that other potential targets were still being researched by the ring, among them Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, Hilary Duff, and Vanessa Hudgens.
Two weeks after Prugo’s confessions, search warrants for the other ring participants were issued by the LAPD. Lee, Tamayo, Ames, Neiers, and Lopez were all subsequently arrested for their connection to the burglaries. Lee was taken into custody while at her father’s home in Las Vegas. Police reported that she calmly asked them hypothetical questions about how it might help her if she did in fact have information and shared that information with police. Their report stated that she clearly believed she’d removed all incriminating evidence from her home. However, police found a coat identified as belonging to Lohan, and topless pictures of Hilton which had been left in an unlocked safe in Hilton’s home. Seeing this, Lee was reported to have instantly turned hysterical, acting as though she were suddenly sick, and gagging as though she were going to vomit. Other items reported to have been seized from Lee were a jar of marijuana and more than $20,000 in $100 bills.
Whereas Lee was reportedly sentenced to three counts of residential burglary, Prugo was charged with seven, each count carrying sentences between 2 and 6 years. Neiers agreed to plead no contest to residential burglary, and was sentenced to a jail term of 180 days, with an additional three years of probation, as well as being ordered to pay $600,000 worth of restitution to Orlando Bloom.