Celebrities testify in ‘bling ring’ burglaries
Several celebrities, including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom, gathered at the same downtown location two weeks ago for an appearance that had nothing to do with a movie shoot or a club opening.
After receiving subpoenas, the stars testified before a Los Angeles County Grand Jury in the case against five reputed members of the “bling ring,” who authorities said broke into the stars’ Hollywood Hills homes and made off with more than $3 million in art, cash, clothes and jewelry.
On Friday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Patricia M. Schnegg unsealed the grand jury indictment that charges five reputed members of the ring — Nicholas Frank Prugo, 19; Rachel Lee, 19; Diana Tamayo, 20; Courtney Leigh Ames, 19; and Roy Lopez Jr., 28 — with multiple burglaries and new allegations of receiving stolen property and conspiracy to commit burglary during the year-long crime spree. They all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The latest twist in the case comes as the defendants were out on bail and had been preparing to answer various burglary charges at a preliminary hearing. The indictment bypasses the need for a preliminary hearing during which a judge decides whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
The allegations of the case remain largely the same with the addition of overall conspiracy and receiving stolen property allegations. The indictment also revealed that Lopez allegedly stole more than $2 million worth of jewelry from Hilton’s home.
The ring was largely composed of young women who attended a continuation high school in Agoura Hills and had a taste for the luxury goods and accessories worn by young celebrities. The group initially targeted wealthy homeowners in communities in western Los Angeles County, investigators said, and then turned their attention to big names, using websites such as Twitter, TMZ.com and celebrityaddressaerial.com to learn the location of stars’ homes and figure out their public appearances or travel schedules.
In addition to Hilton, Lohan and Bloom, alleged victims include Megan Fox, Brian Austin Green, Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson and Ashley Tisdale. Fox and Tisdale did not testify before the grand jury.
The suspects got caught after they apparently became careless. According to detectives, Prugo and Lee were captured on surveillance video footage breaking into the homes of Lohan and Patridge and then were overheard “boasting” at a party that they had committed the burglaries. Detectives arrested Prugo, who implicated six other suspects.
Alexis Neiers, the 18-year-old Calabasas woman who pursued fame on a cable TV reality show, has already pleaded no contest to a felony burglary at Bloom’s home and is serving 180 days in Los Angeles County jail.
Convicted drug dealer Jonathan Ajar, who allegedly helped sell off the stolen items, pleaded no contest in March to several felonies.