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Cops probe history of mounted snow leopard stolen at mansion party

Sheriff's officials are looking into whether an expensive mounted snow leopard stolen during an unauthorized party at a La Habra Heights mansion had been legally acquired by the home's owner.

Sixteen people were arrested Wednesday in connection with the party, during which teenage guests trashed the property and walked off with collectible medieval armor, scuba gear, designer suits and the snow leopard, valued at $250,000, authorities said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is investigating whether the mounted animal was acquired before it was listed as an endangered species.

“We’re in the process of following up on that to see if it is legal or illegal,” said Lt. Arthur Scott. “There’s a lot of information that needs to be obtained before it is given back to him.”

More than 100 people were estimated to have attended the party, held at a fully furnished La Habra Heights mansion that had been put on the market by the owner, who was out of the country at the time.

Thirteen of the suspects are juveniles — three girls and 10 boys who range from 15 to 17 years old — and were not identified because of their ages. Also arrested were three 18-year-old men, identified as Kevin Larios and Andres Uribe, both of La Habra, and Nickolas Koontz of La Habra Heights.

Koontz told KTLA-TV he was sorry for what happened at the home.

“Kids take lots of valuable stuff. It’s wrong. I couldn’t believe it, and I got caught up with it, too,” he told the station.

The damage and thievery came to at least $1 million, and Sheriff Lee Baca said the severity of the vandalism was so great it ranked as one of the worst juvenile crimes he has seen.

The teens who attended the party were charged a fee to get in and, as the night wore on, a window to the home was pried open, a 16-foot window overlooking the pool grotto was smashed and some guests went into what authorities described as a "looting frenzy."

"I don't think they knew what they were doing. I don't think they knew what they had," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Arthur Scott.

As the home was being picked over, one of the few remaining possessions was the snow leopard, stuffed and serene. The youth suspected of snagging the leopard told detectives he grabbed it simply because "all the good stuff was gone," Scott said.

Told that it was worth more than $250,000, the teen asked, "How many zeros is that?" Scott said.

The teen suspected of making off with the designer suits, which were much too large for him, would have drowned in the mass of fabric had he tried to wear them, said Capt. Timothy Murakami.

"These were not items you could sell, they're so unique," Murakami said. "It's probably just another stuffed animal to them."

Those who were arrested appeared to be "kids of means," Baca said. The teens face a range of charges, from trespassing to grand theft, which carries a possible jail sentence.

Some of the suspects essentially identified themselves by posting "selfies" with their loot to social media accounts to brag about their haul, officials said. The photos aided detectives' efforts to find the suspects.

The investigation is ongoing and officials said they are searching for still-missing property and additional suspects including the party's organizer. The homeowner was not identified.

Neighbors didn't report anything amiss at the time of the party, which began the afternoon of Nov. 23 and lasted into the early hours of Nov. 24.

The neighborhood is quiet and the home, which sits on a large property, isn't visible from the road, officials said. A groundskeeper or house-sitter reported the break-in. Security cameras on the property had been turned off while real estate agents were showing the property, Scott said.

It isn't unheard of for large, vacant properties — often listed for sale online — to be used for pop-up parties, officials said, but Murakami could not recall it ever happening in La Habra Heights.

"This isn't just happening in La Habra Heights, it's happening all over the county," Baca said.

"The question is how are we going to pay back the owner for the loss?" Baca asked.

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Twitter: @Sam_Schaefer

Samantha.Schaefer@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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