After a rash of burglaries at celebrity homes, LAPD looking for possible connections

Celebrity homes have long been easy targets for burglars looking for lucrative scores.

Nearly a decade ago, it was the “Bling Ring,” a group of young people who used gossip magazine, online star maps and celebrities’ own social media accounts to target the riches of socialite Paris Hilton, actors Orlando Bloom and Lindsay Lohan and others to the tune of more than $3 million.

A few years later, another ring of burglars hit the hillside estates. Officials believe they made off with more than $7 million, stealing safes, rare books and jewels from the likes of singers Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, former Hollywood executive Sherry Lansing and Duran Duran’s John Taylor.

Over the last few months, there has been a new rash of celebrity break-ins, but officials aren’t sure if there is another ring on the loose or whether the cases are unrelated.

Is it a mere coincidence that the homes of singer Alanis Morissette and Lakers star Nick Young were hit in recent weeks? The burglars took safes that officials said were filled with contents worth $2 million and $500,000, respectively.

Other recent celebrity victims include Dodger Yasiel Puig, ex-Laker Derek Fisher and hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti this week seemed to downplay the prospect of another crew preying on the rich and famous,

“I spoke to Chief Beck about this,” he said about the Los Angeles police chief. “We don't think any of the celebrity burglary cases are related.”

But law enforcement sources familiar with the investigations said officials are still not sure about any links. There are some similarities among the cases, they said, but evidence is still being gathered.

These crimes are more than simple burglaries. The Commercial Crimes Division’s Burglary Section is investigating the break-ins.

In the Feb. 18 or 19 burglary of Young’s home, someone broke in through a rear window and pulled the safe from a wall.

“Someone came prepared to get that safe,” said one LAPD official familiar with the probe but was not authorized to discuss specifics. “Someone knew something.”

At the time of the burglary, Young was competing in a shooting contest at the NBA’s All-Star weekend. The Morissette burglary Feb. 9 also saw a thief or thieves make off with a safe that contained about $2 million worth of vintage jewels. Some of that jewelry had appeared on social media posts by the singer.

Puig was at spring training in Arizona when a collection of high-end watches and jewelry worth $170,000 were taken.

Minaj and Fisher were also out of town when their homes were hit.

Likewise in 2016, burglars made off with $500,000 in valuables from comedian Kevin Hart’s Tarzana home, a slew of pricey watches from TV personality Scott Disick’s Hidden Hills home and $200,000 from model Blac Chyna’s Tarzana house.

Los Angeles police Deputy Chief Bob Green said that beyond the burglaries of celebrities’ homes in the San Fernando Valley, the department has launched a task force to apprehend offenders, many of whom come from criminal street gangs.

A similar task force in 2012 helped arrest and convict dozens of burglars many associated with South L.A. gangs that came to the Valley looking for targets in such places as Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Woodland Hills.

Overall, burglaries dropped across L.A. nearly 4% last year compared to 2015. They are down 1.2% during the first three months of 2017.

But LAPD Capt. Paul Vernon said in Topanga Division the number of burglaries south of Ventura Boulevard jumped about 50%, but they have been curtailed this year thanks to vigilant residents and tactics like undercover details. Overall, the division saw a 6.2% climb in burglaries in 2016.

Recently, officers in an unmarked surveillance car saw a man wandering into driveways south of Ventura Boulevard; the man was then picked up by four men in a van, Vernon said.

Police stopped the men, who claimed to be selling magazine subscriptions. Vernon said all the men were from out of state, and investigators suspect they were casing homes for burglaries.

Vernon said his division had seen several burglaries in recent months in which the thieves targeted safes and the victims were not famous. “We just have a lot of homes with safes,” he said.

richard.winton@latimes.com

Twitter: @lacrimes

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