Fame and celebrity

A new ‘Bling Ring’? After series of burglaries at celebrity homes, LAPD looking for possible connections

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 1:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 6:55pm

Celebrity homes have long been easy targets for burglars looking for lucrative scores.

Nearly a decade ago, it was the “Bling Ring” – a group of young people who used gossip magazine, cyber star maps and celebrities’ own social media accounts – to target the riches of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom and Lindsay Lohan and others to the tune of more than US$3 million.

A few years later, another ring of burglars hit the hillside estates. Officials believe thieves made off with more than US$7 million, stealing safes, rare books and jewels from the likes of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Sherry Lansing and Duran Duran’s John Taylor.

Over the last few months, there has been a new rash of celebrity break-ins, but officials aren’t sure if there is another ring on the loose or whether the cases are unrelated.

Is it a mere coincidence that the homes of singer Alanis Morissette and Los Angeles Lakers star Nick Young were hit in recent weeks? The burglars took safes that officials said were filled contents worth US$2 million and US$500,000 respectively.

Other recent celebrity victims include Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig, ex-Los Angeles Laker Derek Fisher and hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj.

Someone came prepared to get that safe. Someone knew something
LAPD official

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti this week seemed to downplay the prospect of another crew preying on the rich and famous.

“I spoke to Chief [Charlie] Beck about this. We don’t think any of the celebrity burglary cases are related,” he said.

But law enforcement sources familiar with the investigations said officials are still not sure about any links. Although the cases have similarities, they said, evidence is still being gathered.

These crimes are more than simple burglaries, though. The Commercial Crimes Division’s Burglary Section is investigating the break-ins.

In Young’s February 19 burglary someone broke in through a rear window and pulled the safe from the wall.

“Someone came prepared to get that safe,” said one Los Angeles Police Department official familiar with the probe but was not authorised to discuss specifics. “Someone knew something.”

At the time of the burglary, Young was competing in a shooting contest during the All-Star weekend. Morissette’s burglary February 9 resulted with thieves making off with the safe, which contained about US$2 million worth of vintage jewels. Some of that jewellery had appeared on the singer’s social media posts.

Puig was at spring training in Arizona when thieves stole a collection of high-end watches and collection of jewellery worth US$170,000. Minaj and Fisher were also out of town when their homes were hit.

Likewise in 2016, burglars made off with US$500,000 in valuables from comedian Kevin Hart’s Tarzana home, a slew of pricey watches from Scott Disick’s Hidden Hills home and US$200,000 from Blac Chyna’s Tarzana house.

Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Bob Green said beyond the rash of celebrity knock-knock burglaries in part of the San Fernando Valley, the department has a launched a task force to apprehend offenders who tend to come from criminal street gangs.

We don’t think any of the celebrity burglary cases are related
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

A similar task force in 2012 help arrest and convict dozens of burglars many associated with South LA gangs that came to the Valley looking for targets in such places as Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Woodland Hills.

Overall, burglaries dropped across LA nearly 4 per cent last year compared with 2015. They are down 1.2 per cent during the first three months of 2017.

LAPD Captain Paul Vernon said in Topanga Division a surge of burglaries last year saw the number of burglaries south of Ventura Boulevard jump about 50 per cent, but they have been curtailed this year thanks to vigilant residents and tactics like undercover details. Overall the division saw a 6.2 per cent climb in burglaries in 2016.

Recently a man was seen by officers in an unmarked surveillance car wandering into driveways south of Ventura Boulevard and then he was picked up by four men in a van, Vernon said.

When police stopped the men, they claimed to be selling magazine subscriptions. Vernon said all the men were from out of state, and investigators suspect they were casing homes for burglaries.

Vernon said his division had seen several burglaries in recent months in which the thieves targeted safes and the victims were not famous.

“We just have a lot of homes with safes,” he said.