The Hollywood Burglars: Inside the Bling Ring

In a story published Friday, The New York Times looks at the intersection of celebrity, teen culture, reality TV and the Internet that is the recent spate of burglaries at the homes of Lindsay Lohan, Paris HiltonOrlando Bloom and other celebrities.

The Bling Ring, as the Los Angeles Times has come to call it, is made up of mostly 18- and 19-year-olds who used celebrity Web sites to figure out when their victims’ homes would be vulnerable. It doesn’t hurt the chances of the group becoming the subject of a movie that the teenagers “look like the cast of Twilight,” as one Hollywood lawyer put it.

Six accused members of the band have been charged with residential burglary and other crimes.

Rachel Lee, 18, is said to be the ringleader and was arrested in Las Vegas. She is expected to be charged soon.

Nowadays, celebrities are close enough to reach out and touch, even more so thanks to gossip Web sites that track the nightly antics of young Hollywood. “Young people see a lifestyle on television and have peer pressure and constant bombardment from media to have what other people have, to want what other people want and to try to live the dream,” Jason Peirce, the host of Calabasas Teen Forum, a local cable television program, told the NYT.

Police say that some of the stolen bling was fenced for cash, while other items were kept as trophies. The paper goes on to look at the private lives of the suspected celebuthieves themselves.

Lee “dressed very trendy, things like what celebrities wore,” Dani Ley, a classmate, told the paper. “Everyone would be in jeans and shorts. She would come in fancy jean skirts and fancy tops.” But friends also said Lee had trouble at home.

The stealing started small about two years ago, said Sean Erenstoft, a lawyer for one of the other accused, Nicholas Prugo.

“Rachel for fun would break into cars in rich neighborhoods,” Erenstoft told the paper. “She would yank on the handles of cars to see if they were locked. They find an open door, grab a roach.”

That version of events was disputed by David Diamond, the lawyer for 27-year-old Roy Lopez Jr. He said that it was Prugo who was the mastermind and is pointing the finger at everyone else.

By late last year, according to court documents, Prugo and others burglarized Paris Hilton’s home in Sherman Oaks by entering through an open door and making off with jewelry and other belongings.

It is unclear why the teenagers graduated from parked cars to celebrity homes, but once they did they apparently found the Internet an excellent aid: They consulted sites to learn of stars’ comings and goings and to learn their home addresses, the NYT says.

In coverage of the Bling Ring, the NYT points out, there has been much speculation about what turns teenagers to such crimes: lax parenting? Have children raised on reality TV and intimate-sounding Tweets from movie stars lost all boundaries between the screen and themselves?

Blair Berk, a lawyer who has represented Lindsay Lohan and other celebrities, said that in the brief comments some Bling Ring members have made to the ubiquitous video cameras that now follow them, they seem to be having a good time.

“Wait until they become the people they robbed,” she said. “Give it 60 days before these kids are household names.”