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CNN security manager was first to identify 'bling ring' members to police, court documents show

May 14, 2010 |  8:03 am

Nick Prugo, 18

Los Angeles police detectives first identified members of the "bling ring" accused of burglarizing the homes of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom and other young celebrities after a tip from a CNN security manager, court records reviewed by The Times show.

Detectives got their big break in the celebrity robbery series in September 2009 when CNN's West Coast security manager Paul Wolcott informed police that a fellow CNN employee and her friend knew two of the  burglars' identities, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by The Times.

The CNN employee, identified as protected witness 1, told Wolcott her friend overheard Nicholas Prugo and Rachel Lee at a party "boasting" they had done the burglaries at Audrina Patridge's and Lindsay Lohan's home earlier in 2009.

The friend, identified as protected witness 2, provided links to the alleged burglars' Facebook pages, according to an affidavit filed by LAPD Officer Brett Goodkin seeking to search Prugo's home in March. 

The search warrant said Wolcott then provided that information to LAPD Hollywood Capt. Beatrice Girmala. Detectives reviewed the photos on the Facebook pages of Prugo and Lee and noticed the striking resemblance to the burglars captured on video surveillance at the homes.

That same month, detectives arrested Prugo and by October he identified six other suspects responsible for 10 burglaries that netted $3 million worth of merchandise.

Prugo, along with his then-attorney, Sean Erenstoft, met with Los Angeles Police Department detectives and provided a detailed statement. Prugo is now charged with seven burglaries.

Since then, Prugo hired new lawyers who have argued that those statements came as a result of what he believed was a deal for leniency.

A judge, however, earlier this week ruled that authorities did not promise to provide a plea bargain to Prugo for his statements. Prugo's lawyers at a May 21 hearing will seek to exclude his statements to authorities and are expected to argue that their client had ineffective legal counsel.

His former attorney has been charged with dissuading a witness from testifying in a separate, unrelated case.

A preliminary hearing for Prugo and four others charged in the burglaries is set for May 25.

Rachel Lee, 19, is charged with break-ins at the homes of Hilton, Lohan and Patridge. Diana Tamayo, 20, is charged with burglarizing the houses of Ashley Tisdale and Lohan. Courtney Ames, 19, and Roy Lopez Jr., 28, are charged with a burglary at Hilton's home.

Alexis Neiers, a reality television star, pleaded no contest Monday to the felony residential burglary of Bloom's home last July and was sentenced to six month in jail.

-- Richard Winton

Photo: Nicholas Prugo in court. Credit: KTLA News