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High school classmates investigated in burglaries of young Hollywood celebrities

October 26, 2009 | 12:45 pm

A group of Calabasas school classmates is at the center of an LAPD investigation into burglaries over the last year that targeted Audrina Patridge, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom and other young Hollywood stars, according to police sources.

At least seven suspects are under investigation for the break-ins, which date to October 2008, according to detectives with the LAPD's Hollywood Division.

The group includes Rachel Lee, 19; Diana Tamayo, 19; Courtney Ames, 18; and Alexis Neiers, 18; according to police. They were arrested on suspicion of burglaries in several of the cases but have not been charged by the L.A. County district attorney's office.

All are free after posting $50,000 bail.

Others arrested include Nicholas Frank Prugo, who has been charged in connection with the Lohan and Patridge burglaries, and two older men who are suspected of acting as fences for the stolen goods, detectives said. Police identified one of those men as 27-year-old Roy Lopez, a  bartender who lives in Los Angeles County.

LAPD Det. Brett Goodkin said the women were the driving forces behind the crimes. They allegedly focused on a celebrity they saw on television or in a magazine, using the Internet to target their movements, Goodkin said, including websites that track celebrity movements. The suspects allegedly staked out their residences, sometimes more than once, the detective added.

“All of these suspects had aspirations of working in the entertainment industry but did not have the skill set or connections to do so,” Goodkin said. "None of these suspects have any connections to the victims. They've never met these people, they never worked with them."

Goodkin said he would not disclose the identities of additional celebrity victims. But other LAPD sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was on ongoing investigation, said the alleged victims represent a "pantheon" of young Hollywood stars. Besides Lohan, Patridge, Hilton and Bloom, sources say the crew targeted Rachel Bilson.

Detectives would not put an immediate price tag on the merchandise, including stolen jewelry, cash, luggage and designer clothing. But sources said the total is likely to be several million dollars.

Investigators said they are still piecing the case together but said that the girls attended Indian Hills Continuation High School in Calabasas and had a  taste for the luxury goods and accessories young celebrities wore. 

According to the police sources, the suspects laid the groundwork for the crimes by scoping out a given location. The crimes took on a dimension of a "scavenger hunt," one source said.

The break in the case came in early September following a break-in a month earlier at Lohan's Hollywood Hills home. Both Lohan and Patridge provided police with video surveillance footage of their burglaries, leading to Prugo's arrest.

"This is a no-brains caper. There's not a lot of self-awareness. They saw it, they wanted it, they took it and continued taking it," Goodkin said.

Blair Berk, an attorney who represents some of the victims, said "paparazzi shots and magazine coverage is increasingly prying into the private homes, schools and personal possessions of stars, and that is increasingly creating a very real danger in terms of mentally ill stalkers and criminals."

"There are only so many shots of a star's back gate before someone, be it a stalker or burglar, goes through it," Berk said.

--Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton in Los Angeles, Robert Faturechi in Calabasas

Video: Security camera video from Lohan's home.

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