The (real) bling ring

We uncover the true story behind the infamous bling ring, a gang of teens who stole from Hollywood’s biggest stars.

The Bling Ring movie cast

If you were a celebrity famous for flaunting your designer wardrobe and excessive wealth, would you leave your spare key under your doormat? If you were Paris Hilton at the height of her fame, circa 2008, then the answer is yes. Unfortunately for Hilton, this security slip – plus the ease of discovering where celebs live and when they’re not home (thanks, Google and Twitter) – meant she was robbed by a gang of teenagers with a taste for the Hollywood lifestyle and the designer wardrobes that go with it. Five times.

Fast-forward to now, and this reality-is-better-than-fiction story has been turned into a film (out this month) called The Bling Ring, directed by Sofia Coppola. If ever there was a tale suited to our celebrity-obsessed, tabloid times then this is it.

Stealing from the stars

Between 2008 and 2009, ringleaders Rachel Lee and Nicholas Prugo, along with Alexis Neiers, Courtney Ames (all now 22) and Diana Tamayo (now 23) liberated Louis Vuittons from the rich and famous, then partied at the scenes of the crime (turns out, Hilton has a nightclub room inside her mansion). The team didn’t only target Hilton, although she did replace the key she left under the mat each time she noticed it missing. The houses of Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge and Orlando Bloom were also robbed. The clothing and jewellery swag of the club-hopping robbers, who’d been inspired by reality-TV culture, celebrity worship and a bad case of the have-nots, was rumoured to be in the ballpark of $3.27 million. Wow.

 Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson were all victims.
Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson were all victims.

The Bling Ring – the movie

The so-called “bling ring” became famous in a Vanity Fair article and later a book, both by Nancy Jo Sales. Coppola picked up the film rights and signed Emma Watson to star. Hilton opened her home to the film crew to add an element of realism. “Paris was really friendly and helpful to us,” says Coppola. “Letting us film in her bedrooms and closets – it was pretty amazing to be in the place where they actually robbed.” The footage shows off Hilton’s aforementioned nightclub room, her wardrobe and, bizarrely, throw pillows with her own face on them. The result had a personal effect on Hilton, who went to the premiere. “I was really emotional watching it; during some parts of it, I literally had tears in my eyes and I wanted to cry,” she said. “I knew what happened with the burglaries, but I had never actually seen it – so watching it happen, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this really happened to me. These kids were really in my house and did this to me.’”

Getting caught

Things began to unravel for the bling ring after security footage was released by the Los Angeles Police Department showing Prugo and Lee leaving Lohan’s and Patridge’s estates. But the real undoing came when the pair were overheard boasting about their stolen swag, and were dobbed in to the police. From that point, things moved quickly, and arrests were made in late 2009. Both Ames and Tamayo were ordered to complete community service and placed on probation. Prugo proved to be one of the chattier instigators (it’s thought he confessed to robberies the police weren’t even aware of) and was released earlier this year after serving half his two-year jail sentence.

Lee pleaded no contest to robbing Patridge’s home and copped four years, but was released on good behaviour after one year and four months thanks to her involvement in a programme training inmates for disaster relief. Since serving time she’s kept her story pretty quiet. Unlike Neiers.

 The real life “bling ring”. Paris Hilton’s house was the site of many robberies.
The real life “bling ring”. Paris Hilton’s house was the site of many robberies.

Real life drama

Unhappy about her portrayal in Coppola’s film, Neiers recently tweeted “it’s trashy and inaccurate.” Yet Watson gives a close-to-verbatim rendition of Neiers’s statement outside court on the day she was sentenced in a pitch-perfect Valley drawl: “I’m a firm believer in karma, and I think this situation is a huge learning lesson for me to grow and expand as a human being. I want to lead a country one day, for all I know.”

This sound bite also featured on Neiers’s reality TV show, Pretty Wild. The series, which lasted one season, follows her as she avoids six years in state prison by agreeing to a plea deal that included a six-month jail sentence and three years’ probation. She was released after 30 days, but after a bust for heroin possession she was ordered to go to rehab. True to the reality-TV-culture-inspired story, it’s there she met her current husband, and in April this year, she gave birth
to their baby girl.

Given Neiers found herself in a situation that was arguably caused by misguided aspirations towards fame culture and celebrity worship, here’s hoping that her political aspirations have already met their karmic fate and come full circle. Stay tuned, though: she plans to release a tell-all memoir later this year.