Nonfiction

True Crime Storytime pt 1

Teenage/Young Adult Robberies

When you type ‘famous teen robberies’ into Google, what do you think you’ll find?
No worries, you don’t actually have to, as I’ve already checked; the top seven links will all lead you to information about a group called ‘The Bling Ring’.
Which makes perfect sense.

For those who’ve never heard the story, or watched the 2013 based off of the events, the Bling Ring was a group of seven teens and young adults who snuck into celebrity homes, and stole from the victims while they weren’t home. This happened in October 2008, and continued off and on until August 23, 2009 when some of the group was captured on a surveillance video and identified.

How did it start?

October 2008, the two main ‘founders’ of the group, Rachel Lee (17) and Nicholas Prugo (18), decided to head to Paris Hilton’s home in a gated community nestled between Beverly Hills and Sherman Oaks, in California.

The two weren’t able to come up with any plausible reason for security, that was guarding the community, to allow them in, so they instead decided to scale a hill behind the development to gain access to the neighborhood.

After finding her address online, they rang Hilton’s doorbell to see if she was there. When no one answered, they checked under the doormat and found a spare key which they used to gain entry. Deciding that they hadn’t already broken enough laws, Rachel treated herself to some of Hilton’s items in her closet, Nicholas stole a bottle of Grey Goose, and both stole about $1,800 in cash apiece.

Off and on over the next ten months, Nicholas and Rachel, and sometimes their friends, would break into homes belonging to Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, Brian Austin Green, and Audrina Patridge. Reports claim the group stole over $3,000,000 worth of cash, clothes, jewelry, and other personal items; including a handgun that belonged to Brian Austin Green.

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Unfortunately for Hilton, her home was hit four more times after the first offense; the heiress mentioning she hadn’t noticed anything was missing until the final “visit” on August 23, 2009. In one of the several robberies of Hilton, two more friends Courtney Ames, and friend Roy Lopez Jr., were added to the group, and stole a Louis Vuitton bag and $2,000,000 worth of jewelry; alerting the heiress that not all was well at her home.

The group’s first big mishap was when they robbed the home of Audrina Patridge on February 22, 2009 where about $43,000 worth of items were stolen; one of the items was a piece of jewelry that was passed down from her great-grandma. After the actress found out about the burglary, she posted her surveillance video onto her website hoping someone would be able to sleuth out who the crooks were.

Rachel Bilson’s, another actress hit, home was hit six times between April and May 2009. Reports claim that about $130,000 was stolen.

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Now enter Alexis Neiers, a new celeb thanks to the series ‘Pretty Wild‘ on E! (the show was in production before she was linked to the crimes), and Diana Tamayo; both friends who were included into the group. Neiers claims she hadn’t known what was occurring as the group went to Orlando Bloom’s home. HOWEVER! She said she was aware that her friends were robbing celebrity homes.

Though Neiers was reluctant to enter the property, she did. She claims that the group cut through a wire fence, entered the property, and stole $500,000 of goods. Neiers claims that her friends (Prugo, Lee, and Tamayo) had stole the items, and Neiers, while intoxicated, went outside and got sick.

The final hit, Hilton’s last burglary, was on August 23, 2009, however Hilton was prepared for the visit. Three days after the robbery, surveillance video was shared to TMZ (a tabloid news website) by the LAPD and was combined with Patridge’s video she had uploaded. TMZ concluded that the same people had hit the houses, and they were able to narrow down who since Prugo and Lee hadn’t kept quiet about their activities online.

So how did things end?

Nicholas Prugo was arrested on September 17, 2009, where he confessed to everything in a matter of weeks; including crimes the police hadn’t even connected him to. He confessed that Lee was the mastermind who had created the scheme and that he only followed her actions because he liked her. Prugo was charged with seven counts of residential burglary.

Following his own confession, Prugo informed the author of The Bling Ring book, that Neiers had indeed stolen items from Orlando Bloom’s home; a Louis Vuitton laptop-sized bag, and a dress by designer Alex Perry. Neiers was later arrested on October 22, 2009 and charge with one count of residential burglary.

Ames and Lopez were also charged with one count of residential burglary, and Paris Hilton was able to get a majority of her jewelry back.

Tamayo was charged with two counts of residential burglary for Lohan’s home, and an attempted burglary for an aborted attempt to enter the home of Ashley Tisdale. Tisdale’s friend was at the home, and prevented the theft.

Lee was charged with three counts of residential burglary for Hilton, Patridge, and Lohan.

Unfortunately the crew involved person in their scheme, Johnathan Ajar (aka Jonnie Dangerous), the ex-boyfriend of Courtney Ames. Ajar, who was a club promoter and ex-con, bought some of the goods from the group, including Green’s gun. He was later arrested and charged with possession of narcotics and a firearm.

Thanks to the crew’s bad choices, there have been copycat crimes that have targeted actors, athletes, and musicians. Some of the celebrities being: Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Alanis Morissette, Yasiel Puig, Nick Young, Kendall Jenner, Jaime Pressly, Emmy Rossum, and David Spade.

What’s the aftermath?

Rachel Lee: After stealing items and money from celebrities, Lee headed for Vegas to live with her father. The authorities eventually caught up to her and charged her for the robberies. In court, she pleaded ‘No contest’ and was sentenced to four years.

Lee was released after sixteen months, where she changed her life around. October 2018, Lee graduated cosmetology school and is working on a screenplay.

Alexis Neiers: Neiers was arrested as she was filming her reality show ‘Pretty Wild’. In court, she also pleaded ‘No contest’ to felony burglary and was sentenced to one-hundred and eighty days in jail. Neiers only served thirty days, and was given three years probation and was told to pay a fine of $600,000 to Orlando Bloom.

Since her release, Neiers had been going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and getting assistance for her recovery; where she met her husband Evan Haines, and has two daughters. Neiers celebrated her eight years of sobriety in December 2018, and had been working at Alo Recovery Center in Malibu; helping others with addictions.

Courtney Ames: Ames pleaded ‘No contest’ and was not charged with jail time, instead she was sentenced to three years probation and sixty days of community service.

Ames keeps to herself now and has not spoken to reporters, though in 2013 her lawyer Robert Schwartz claimed she was enrolled at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, where she was taking psychology, speech, and child development classes.

Diana Tamayo: Tamayo pleaded ‘No contest’ for burglary, and was also charged to three years probation and sixty days of community service.

Initially Tamayo was threatened to be deported, as she was an illegal immigrant, if she did not cooperate with police. Once everything was settled, the police left her alone, and she was not deported. Tamayo has since become a positive person who works as a personal trainer and married.

Nicholas Prugo: Prugo was the last of the group to be tried in court, and pleaded ‘No contest’ to two counts of first-degree residential burglary. He was sentenced to two years in jail, but only served one year.

Prugo decided instead going into hiding, that he would do a talk-show circuit and explain his side of the story. In 2015, he had another issue with the law after the burglary for stalking and solicitation to commit sexual assault. He has now since kept to himself and has no freely offered further information about himself/life; though, there has been a rumor that he is in a committed relationship.

Ray Lopez Jr.: Lopez pleaded ‘No contest’ to receiving stolen items and was given three years probation.

Jonathan Ajar (Jonnie Dangerous): Ajar was charged separately from the group as he took no part in the actual robberies, and was merely assisting in selling the items taken. When the police arrested him in 2009, he already had a criminal record. Ajar pleaded ‘No contest’ on several things including selling cocaine, illegally possessing a firearm, and taking the group’s stolen goods. He was sentenced to three years in jail, and got on in March 2011.

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Sources:
https://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/the-bling-ring.php

https://www.eonline.com/news/868043/legacy-of-the-bling-ring-when-stealing-from-the-rich-and-famous-had-its-own-moment-in-the-spotlight

https://www.vulture.com/2013/06/real-bling-ring-where-are-they-now.html

https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/pictures/the-bling-ring-where-are-they-now/

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Side Story!

Practically everyone’s heard of TikTok (2016), the app that’s trying to be the next Vine (2012), where anyone can post a minute-long video. Many people take different approaches to the themes of their accounts; beauty and make-up, arts and hobbies, fashion, humor and jokes, and last but not least, pranks.

Though the main characters of this story hadn’t actually robbed or burgled anyone, they still received police and bystander reactions as though they really had.

Alan and Alex Stokes are well-known TikTok (https://www.tiktok.com/@stokestwins?lang=en) and YouTubers (https://www.youtube.com/c/StokesTwins/featured) who generally use their twin-schtick to gain popularity with their prank videos. Back on October 15th, 2019, the two decided to pull some pranks by pretending to rob a bank located in Irvine, California.

The two dressed all in black, ski masks included, and ran from the bank with large duffel bags filled with “cash”. The two headed to an Uber they had called for, which the Uber driver refused them entry. A bystander took initiative and called the police; informing them of the incident and claiming they were trying to car-jack the Uber driver.

Unfortunately, the Uber driver was held up by the police, thinking he was honestly involved with the prank.

The police arrived not much longer after the call, and after explaining that they weren’t truly robbing the bank, that everything had been staged and fake, the police let the brothers go after a warning.

In the video, you can see that the brothers had also visited the campus of the University of California, speaking to students to push their prank further, students informed officers of the situation so they were alerted of the continuation.

Orange County’s District Attorney, Todd Spitzer, did not take the pranks well and instead claimed them to be a “twisted attempt to gain more popularity on the internet by unnecessarily putting members of the public and police officers in danger.” Spitzer has said that charges were put on the brothers, each could earn four years in state prison, if they are proven guilty.

Of course both brother deny charges of criminal intent.

The original video has been taken off the brothers’ channel, but if you’re interested, we found a re-uploaded copy of the video here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5E7dCUIgOtE

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Sources:
https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/tiktok-twins-alan-and-alex-stokes-facing-felony-charges-over-bank-robbery-pranks-prosecutors/ar-BB17Cdvv

https://deadline.com/2020/08/youtube-tiktok-stars-alan-alex-stokes-charged-felony-bank-robbery-prank-1203005654/

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53681018

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