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Crime

Man posed as ‘slick’ property agent to rob millions from Hollywood Hills celebrity homes, LA police say

  • Investigators found more than 2,000 suspected stolen items
  • Entertainers such as Usher, Adam Lambert and Jason Derulo were among 13 victims identified so far
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 January, 2019, 12:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 January, 2019, 9:46pm

A man who is thought to have posed as a prospective homebuyer or property agent to scout targets for future burglaries has been accused of stealing millions of dollars in expensive artwork, jewellery and liquor from Hollywood Hills homes of celebrities and others.

Benjamin Eitan Ackerman, 32, of Los Angeles, was arrested in September. Police think he spearheaded the theft of more than 2,000 valuable items from at least 13 homes in Encino, Tarzana and Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley in 2017 and 2018, authorities said.

The items, valued in the “millions” were found during a search of a storage locker belonging to Ackerman in September, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

Some of the famous victims included singers Usher, Adam Lambert and Jason Derulo, and a member of the cast of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, said LAPD Detective Jared Timmons, the lead investigator in the case.

Ackerman was arrested on September 20, but he has yet to be formally charged with a crime.

Online jail records show he was released on US$1 million bond September 24, and police said there were no restrictions on his travel as a condition of his release.

Paul Eakins, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, said the LAPD had not yet presented a case against Ackerman.

Timmons said police are gathering additional evidence.

Investigators said they believed he had been involved in “criminal activity for the past several years”.

Court records show Ackerman was convicted of burglary or petty theft on three occasions in Los Angeles County in 2013 and 2014.

Detectives said they began to focus on Ackerman after they noticed he had signed his middle name in guest books at open house events for multiple homes that later were ransacked, Timmons said.

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Some employees at the open houses also noticed Ackerman had asked specific questions about rare artwork that was on display.

Timmons described Ackerman as a sophisticated criminal with a penchant for modifying artwork so it could be resold.

In some cases, Ackerman may have modified identifying numbers or marks on certain paintings and photo prints so he could conceal from buyers that the items had been stolen, authorities said.

He also destroyed or otherwise tampered with surveillance cameras during several of the burglaries, Timmons said.

“When he showed up, he was dressed to the nines,” Timmons said.

“He acted the part; he was very slick. He appears to be very fluent with technology.”

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Police said they thought Ackerman had accomplices who helped him steal the items or resell them, but no one else has been arrested or charged in the case.

Timmons said Ackerman also had “connections to New York” and may have been fencing stolen artwork there. The detective declined to elaborate.

Police posted photos of items on a website in the hope of identifying other victims and returning property to them.

The burglaries were part of a surge in celebrity break-ins during the last two years. High-value thefts have occurred at the homes of singer Alanis Morissette, ex-Lakers guard Nick Young, recently traded Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and hip-hop star Nicki Minaj.

The hauls from each were substantial, with the jewellery carried out of Morissette’s home in February 2017 valued at US$2 million.

In November, 13 men with alleged ties to a South Los Angeles set of the Crips street gang were charged in a series of burglaries that dated to at least October 2017.

In some of those cases, investigators said, the robbers monitored celebrities’ social media posts to determine when they would be out of town.

Additional reporting by Associated Press