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Alleged 'bling ring' leader charged in celebrity break-ins

January 13, 2010 |  1:51 pm

A 19-year-old woman described by detectives as a leader of the "bling ring" that brazenly burglarized the homes of the Hollywood young and famous of millions of dollars in cash, jewelry and art was charged today with five felonies, and a warrant was issued for her arrest.

Authorities alleged that Rachel J. Lee, driven by her love of celebrity fashion and style, masterminded the ring's series of break-ins at the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and other young celebrities. According to court documents, Lee spearheaded the ring that included many of her former schoolmates at an Agoura Hills high school and is accused of stealing more than $3 million in merchandise.

Lee was charged with three burglaries involving the homes of Lohan, Hilton and reality star Audrina Patridge and two counts of receiving stolen goods. Lee was originally arrested last fall at a Las Vegas home she shares with her father and was released on bail. While several other members of the ring were charged, the investigation into Lee continued. 

Los Angeles police investigators during an Oct. 22 search of the Las Vegas home recovered private photos of Hilton, designer jeans and a fur coat that they believed belonged to Lohan, according to search warrant returns. In addition to the items, they also recovered 204 $100 bills.

An unidentified person initially tipped Los Angeles Police Department detectives that Lee and Nicholas Prugo were responsible for a burglary at Lohan's Hollywood Hills home last year, according to a search warrant. Lee was captured on a security cameras entering Lohan's home, according to detectives.

Prugo in October implicated Lee and other members of the ring, telling detectives that the group used such websites as TMZ.com and celebrityaddressaerial.com to learn the location of stars' homes and figure out their travel itinerary.

According to Prugo, Lee chose the targets based upon whose style she admired. In many of the cases, doors to the homes were simply left open. In the case of Hilton and actress Rachel Bilson, the crew broke in numerous times, according to the search warrant affidavit filed at a Las Vegas court.

Authorities said the bling ring broke into Bilson's home three times and removed as much as $300,000 worth of Chanel clothing from the residence, according to court documents. In a search warrant affidavit, Prugo told detectives that when Lee's father became aware of the burglaries he suggested they bury the stolen property in the Nevada desert.

In addition to Prugo and Lee, Jonathan Ajar, Courtney Ames, Alexis Neiers, Diana Tamayo and Roy Lopez have been charged in connection with at least one of the 10 burglaries, which occurred from December 2007 to September 2008. All of them have pleaded not guilty to charges.

-- Richard Winton

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