The Celebrity Burglar Bunch, also known as the Bling Ring, was a group of individuals, many of whom were teenagers, who burgled the Hollywood Hills homes of several celebrities including Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, and Paris Hilton between 2008 and 2009. The members were mainly celebrity and fashion-obsessed teenagers from an affluent neighborhood in Calabasas, California. In total, they stole more than $3 million worth of money, clothing, jewellery, art and other possessions. The group mainly focused their efforts on the homes of fashion icons and used social media, like Twitter and Facebook, and celebrity gossip websites to track the schedules of the celebrities. Once they knew their targets were out of town, they would go to the houses during the night and gain access through open doors.
At first, only the ringleaders of the group, Rachel Lee and Nicholas Prugo, were involved in the robberies. The two met at Indian Hills, a High School for at-risk youth and it was in the summer of Prugo’s grade 10 year that they began to engage in petty theft. At first, they stole what was available inside unlocked cars in the neighborhood and from non-celebrity houses. It wasn’t until later that their criminal activity escalated to include burgling celebrity homes.
Once the crimes got more serious, Lee brought more people on board and the Bling Ring formed. Alexis Neiers, an aspiring actress and drug addict who knew Nick Prugo, joined them. So did Diana Tamayo, a former classmate of Lee and Prugo, who had previously been arrested for shoplifting with Lee. Courtney Ames, a friend of Lee’s, was also part of the Bling Ring. She then enlisted the help Roy Lopez Jr., a bouncer, and Johnny Ajar, a convicted criminal, to sell whatever stolen goods they acquired. Lopez and Ajar were both older than the other members of the Bling Ring.
The celebrity victims of the Bling Ring were numerous and frequent. Paris Hilton was the first person to have her house burgled by the group; Lee and Prugo broke into her house several times between October and December 2008. Then, in February of 2009, Audrina Patridge’s house was targeted and $43,000 worth of property was stolen. Rachel Bilson’s house was next. The burglars stole between $130,000 - $300,000 worth of property during multiple raids on her home between April and May 2009. Later, in July, at least four members of the Bling Ring took part in the robbery of Orlando Bloom’s house, where he was living with his wife, Miranda Kerr. Together, the four teenagers stole an estimated $500,000 worth of property in one night, including Bloom’s collection of Rolex watches and artwork. In August, the homes of Brian Austin Green and Lindsay Lohan were targeted. It was the burglary of the latter which resulted in the Bling Ring’s demise.
The police initially became aware of a series of residential burglaries in the Hollywood Hills late in 2008 after Paris Hilton reported $2 million worth of her jewelry had gone missing. They were eventually able to connect a number of cases to a single group of suspects in the area. Surveillance footage from the Patridge and Lohan residences revealed similarities between the cases and ultimately led to the identification of Nick Prugo. Tips starting coming in after the videos were displayed publicly by TMZ. Lee and Prugo didn’t help themselves by bragging about the heists at a party.
Following the release of the surveillance tapes and information from the resulting tips, Prugo was arrested on charges of residential burglary. Although he initially tried to deny his involvement in the crimes, he eventually confessed to taking part in multiple burglaries and implicated his friends as well. Search warrants were then issued for Lee, Neiers, Ames, Tamayo, Lopez, and Ajar. One by one, they pleaded no contest to the charges and were given sentences of varying severity related to residential burglary and other associated allegations.
Rachel Lee was sentenced to four years in prison for residential burglary. Prugo, the first Bling Ring member to confess, was given a lighter sentence than Lee. Despite his being charged with at least seven counts of residential burglary, he received a sentence of only two years in prison. The only other Bling Ring member to receive a substantial sentence was Johnny Ajar. Although he wasn’t officially involved in the burglaries, he was arrested and charged with the possession of drugs, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and receiving stolen property. As a result of his plea, he was offered a generous sentence of three years in prison. Alexis Neiers was given 180 days in prison, of which she only served 30, and three years probation.
While legal proceedings were still going on for the Bling Ring, a movie deal had already been secured. Even before the last of the group members was sentenced, the Sofia Coppola movie, The Bling Ring (2013), starring Emma Watson and Leslie Mann, had begun production. One of the police officers involved in the Bling Ring investigation, Brett Goodkin, hampered the prosecutor’s case by failing to tell the police and the court that he was a paid consultant and had a small role in the movie. As a result, the other members of the Bling Ring—Tamayo, Ames, and Lopez Jr.—got off relatively easy and were only sentenced to three years probation each. Most of the $3 million in property still hasn’t been returned to the celebrity victims. ~Cassie Jasinski