The “Bling Ring”

By Maria Cheung

Reviewed by Jennifer Williams

The alleged leader of the so-called “Bling Ring,” a group of young adults accused of breaking into celebrity homes and stealing over $3 million in designer clothes, jewelry, accessories  and artwork, pleaded no contest on Friday, September 23rd, to the burglary of reality star Audrina Patridge’s house. According to Los Angeles prosecutors, Rachel Lee entered into a plea bargain and pleaded no contest to one count of first-degree residential burglary before Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler. Lee is expected to be sentenced to four years in state prison as part of the bargain.

For their part of the bargain, prosecutors agreed to drop a felony count of conspiracy to commit burglary and two counts of receiving stolen property. Police found items belonging to Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom in Lee’s family home in Las Vegas.

The members of the “Bling Ring” attended a continuation high school in Agoura Hills and were reportedly obsessed with celebrities, fashion and fame. Reports state that the ring initially targeted wealthy homeowners in western Los Angeles but then started to burglarize the homes of young Hollywood stars. The group used websites such as Twitter, TMZ.com and celebrityaddressaerial.com to learn the location of the celebrities’ homes and to determine if the stars were in Los Angeles or traveling out of town.

The “Bling Ring” is accused of stealing from the homes of Patridge, Lohan, Bloom, Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Brian Austin-Green and Megan Fox and Ashley Tisdale between September 2008 and August 2009. Lohan, Bloom and Hilton have all testified before a Los Angeles County Grand Jury in a case against five members of the ring including Lee who repeatedly broke into the celebrities’ homes.

Four members of the ring are still awaiting trial: Nicholas Prugo, 20; Diana Tamayo, 21; Courtney Leigh Ames, 20; and Roy Lopez Jr., 29. These defendants will return to court on November 18th for motions and pretrial. They have all pleaded not guilty to charges.

The sixth member, Alexis Neiers, an 18-year-old from Calabasas, who also had a reality show on E! documenting parts of her trial, has already plead no contest to a felony burglary at Bloom’s home. Neiers was sentenced to 180 days in Los Angeles County jail but was released after serving 30 days.

The ring was reportedly aided by convicted drug dealer Jonathan Ajar, who allegedly helped the ring’s members sell the stolen items. According to court records, Ajar plead no contest in March to several felonies.

Police were able to apprehend the suspects after they grew careless. According to Los Angeles police, surveillance video footage showed Prugo and Lee breaking into the homes of Lohan and Patridge. Prugo and Lee were then overheard at a party bragging that they had committed the burglaries. Detectives initially arrested Prugo, who implicated the six others.

The crimes of the “Bling Ring” show how new technology can be used to commit traditional crimes and how law enforcement personnel can use the internet to apprehend these criminals. Police reportedly used social network websites like Facebook to connect the defendants to one another and their crimes.

Additionally, Lee’s plea bargain came just three days before Lifetime premiered its original movie, “The Bling Ring”, based on the ring’s escapades.  According to the network, none of the actual defendants cooperated with the creation of the film. The names of the characters in the movie have also been changed for legal reasons, although it is easy to connect some characters to their real-life ring counterparts.  Since four of the defendants are still awaiting trial, the lawyers will most likely have to ask potential jurors if they have seen the movie. Whatever the eventual outcome, the story of the “Bling Ring” was a real-life tale too compelling and irresistible for Hollywood not to capitalize on, even if it originated with the distress of some of its own.

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