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'Bling ring' member pleads no contest in celebrity burglary

September 23, 2011 |  1:31 pm

Rachel Lee pleads no contest to 'Bling Ring' thefts A member of the so-called "bling ring" accused of breaking into celebrity homes and making off with $3 million in jewels, art and watches pleaded no contest Friday to the burglary of reality star Audrina Patridge's house.

Rachel Lee, 21, pleaded no contest to one count of first-degree residential burglary before Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler and is expected to be sentenced to four years in state prison as part of the plea bargain, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors agreed to drop a felony count of conspiracy to commit burglary and two counts of receiving stolen property. Items belonging to Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom were recovered from Lee's family home in Las Vegas.

Four members of the alleged burglary ring are still awaiting trial. Lee has been described as the second-in-command of the crew.

The ring is accused of stealing more than $3 million in jewelry, designer clothes and accessories from the homes of Bloom, Lohan, Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Brian Austin-Green and Megan Fox, Ashley Tisdale and Patridge between September 2008 and August 2009, police say. Hilton, Lohan and Bloom all testified before a Los Angeles County Grand Jury in the case against five reputed members of the "bling ring," who authorities say repeatedly broke into the stars' Hollywood Hills homes. Bilson's home was burglarized three times and Hilton's twice.

The remaining four defendants -- Nicholas Prugo, 20; Diana Tamayo, 21; Courtney Leigh Ames, 20; and Roy Lopez Jr., 29 –- return to court Nov. 18 for motions and pretrial. All have pleaded not guilty to charges. 

Alexis Neiers, an 18-year-old Calabasas woman who pursued fame on a cable TV reality show, has already pleaded no contest to a felony burglary at Bloom's home and is serving 180 days in Los Angeles County jail, court records show.

Convicted drug dealer Jonathan Ajar, who allegedly helped sell the stolen items, pleaded no contest in March to several felonies, court records show.

The ring was largely composed of young women who attended a continuation high school in Agoura Hills and had a taste for the luxury goods and accessories worn by young celebrities. The group initially allegedly targeted wealthy homeowners in communities in western Los Angeles County, investigators said, and then turned their attention to big names, using websites such as Twitter, TMZ.com and celebrityaddressaerial.com to learn the location of stars' homes and figure out their public appearances or travel schedules.

The suspects were arrested after they apparently became careless. According to Los Angeles police detectives, Prugo and Lee were captured on surveillance video footage breaking into the homes of Lohan and Patridge and then were overheard "boasting" at a party that they had committed the burglaries. Detectives arrested Prugo, who implicated six others.


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--Richard Winton


Photo: Rachel Lee file photo  Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press