A real estate agent and a Beverly Hills man have been charged in a massive money-laundering and burglary scheme that targeted open houses in wealthy enclaves, with some of the homes belonging to celebrities, authorities said.
Benjamin Eitan Ackerman, 32, was initially arrested a year ago in connection with a string of break-ins in the Hollywood Hills, Encino, Tarzana and Sherman Oaks. Although police announced their investigation in January, no charges were filed against Ackerman at the time.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office announced Ackerman and real estate agent Jason Emil Yaselli, 32, of Beverly Hills had been charged in connection with the thefts. Police said expensive artwork, jewelry and liquor were stolen from high-end residences and may have been resold.
The two men were charged with 32 counts of money laundering, 12 counts of first-degree residential burglary, two counts of first-degree residential burglary with a person present, two counts of identity theft, one count of conspiracy to commit burglary and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, the D.A.'s office said in a statement.
Some of the homes that were targeted belonged to celebrities such as Adam Lambert, Usher and former football player Shaun Phillips.
Prosecutors say that between December 2016 and August 2018, Yaselli encouraged Ackerman to steal items from 14 homes, sell them and use the profits to pay off Yaselli’s credit card. Each month, Ackerman deposited between $5,500 and $20,000 into Yaselli’s account, according to the criminal complaint.
The men are accused of stealing more than $500,000.
Ackerman has pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released Tuesday after posting bond. He was first arrested in connection with the thefts in September 2018, but the district attorney’s office declined to charge Ackerman and asked the LAPD to investigate further, according to Paul Eakins, a spokesman for the D.A.'s office.
The Police Department recently resubmitted the case, and charges were filed Aug. 15.
In an emailed statement, Ackerman’s attorney, Gary Kaufman, emphasized that no charges were filed in January and said his client is innocent.
“The district attorney’s press release, by specifically naming Usher Raymond and Adam Lambert as alleged victims, only emphasizes what we have believed from day one, that this is a publicity-driven prosecution,” he said. “The people’s case is no better today than it was a year ago. Unlike a fine wine, this case does not get better with age.”
In a Jan. 2 news conference about Ackerman’s arrest, police said they had recovered 2,000 high-end items valued at millions of dollars in his home and in a storage unit. LAPD Det. Jared Timmons said at the time that Ackerman had posed as an interested buyer or a Realtor in the scheme.
“When he showed up, he was dressed to the nines,” Timmons said. “He acted the part. He was very slick.”
At the time, investigators suspected Ackerman did not work alone. During their investigation, they found surveillance videos that had been tampered with and cameras that had been ripped out of their settings.
“Cameras would simply go black until several hours after the burglary occurred,” Timmons said.
The stolen items included Chanel and Louis Vuitton clothing and purses, expensive jewelry and rare artwork.
Yaselli is expected to appear in court Friday and remains in custody in lieu of $1.73 million bail.