How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World

NANCY JO SALES

HarperCollinsPublishers 77–85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB www.harpercollins.co.uk First published in the US by HarperCollinsPublishers 2013 This edition published 2013 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 © Nancy Jo Sales 2013 Photographs on pages 6, 59, 88, 209, 237 courtesy of Splash News and Picture Agency; photographs on pages 66, 82, 172 courtesy of X17, Inc.; photograph on page 109 ©Warner Bros./Getty Images; photograph on page 129 ©AFP/ Getty Images; photographs on pages 138 and 146 ©Susanna Howe/ Trunk Archive; photograph on page 161 ©WireImage/Getty Images. Designed by Ruth Lee-Mui Nancy Jo Sales asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978-0-00-751822-7 Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers.

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In 2007, Paris Hilton bought a house in the Mulholland Estates, a gated community in what is technically Sherman Oaks, California. The developer was able to secure the more coveted Beverly Hills, 90210, zip code for the address, which over the years has attracted many celebrity residents, including Charlie Sheen, Paula Abdul, and Tom Arnold. The development boasts panoramic views of the San Fernando Valley and some of the area’s most extravagant homes, most of them built in the 1990s, when residential architec‑ ture was continuing to reflect the mass celebration of conspicuous consumption as seen on popular television shows like Dallas and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Two thousand seven was a difficult year for Hilton, from a legal perspective. Her driver’s license had been suspended on a DUI charge the year before, and, after she was caught speeding down Sunset Boulevard in her blue Bentley Continental GTC, she spent 23 days of a 45-day sentence for probation violation in jail. Meanwhile, she continued to do very well financially. Even footage that surfaced of her using a number of racial and homophobic slurs did not interfere with her growing success. The “lifestyle brand” she launched in 2004 now encompassed television, movies, music, clothing, books, jewelry, fragrances, handbags, pet apparel, and her Dreamcatcher hair extensions. Her latest reality show, Paris Hilton’s My New BFF, was in the works (contestants in the first season were asked, “Would you die for Paris?” as Hilton looked on, giggling). Hilton, still just 26, was “hot,” as she liked to say. And so she bought herself a 7,493-square-foot, five-bedroom, Mediterranean-style mansion for $5.9 million. About a year later, on a balmy night in October 2008, two teenagers drove along Mulholland Drive toward Hilton’s home with the intention of robbing it. They were a girl and a boy, 18 and 17, who lived not far away in Calabasas, an affluent suburb in the

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The Bling Ring

Valley. The boy, Nick Prugo, was slight of build, with sharp, fox-like features and an anxious, flashing smile. With his prematurely thin‑ ning hair, he looked like some former Nickelodeon star who had outgrown his childhood appeal. He had a pencil-thin mustache and a sparse goatee, which complemented his trendy hipster look (hoodie, jeans, sneakers, wallet chain). The girl he said was with him in the car that night, Rachel Lee, was dark-haired and slender with a baby face that belied her steely core. As always, Rachel, who had been voted “Best Dressed” in their high school, twice, was styled to perfection in casual burglar chic (hoodie, scarf, designer T‑shirt, jeans). Rachel was obsessed with fashion, Nick said, she was ob‑ sessed with clothes; that was why they were going to Paris’s house that night, because Rachel wanted Paris’s clothes. The friends didn’t say much as they traveled along the curv‑ ing mountain road toward their target’s home. The planning stages had “felt very Mission: Impossible,” Nick said, and they had taken to calling the job they were about to perform “the mission.” They’d been intense and talkative then, figuring out how they were going to gain access to a gated community with a guard. Nick had scoped out the property on Google Earth, having found Hilton’s address on Celebrity Address Aerial. (It was a website dedicated to the divulging of celebrity addresses and photographs of their residences for $99.99 a year. Its web masters took a dim view of Hilton, opin‑ ing on their promotional page, “The reason so many people hate America is, quite simply, Paris Hilton.”) When Nick checked out the aerial shots of the Mulholland Estates, he noticed an area in the back that looked accessible via a steep hill. Rachel was pleased with this finding, he said, and that pleased him; Nick liked to please Rachel. He felt a thrill as they hurtled toward this strange adventure together. He was nervous, he said, but Rachel was calm, and that calmed him down. He tried to keep his mind on the music playing in the car as they zoomed along through the dark. He liked club hits by Pharrell and Lil Wayne and

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songs by Atmosphere, the melancholy white rap group from Min‑ nesota. There was one song of theirs in particular that always made him think of Rachel—called “She’s Enough.” It’s about a man who will do anything for the woman he loves: “If she want it/I’m gonna give it up ​ . . . ​ If she needed the money/I would stick you up ​ . . . ​ She wanna do the damn thing and I’m on her side . . .” Around midnight, Nick said, they arrived at the Mulholland Estates and he parked his white Toyota at the back of the develop‑ ment. They found the hill they were looking for easily and climbed it, making use of the smooth firebreaks—man-made clearings in its side—to help them scale it. They could hear each other panting with the effort. They weren’t athletic kids—they smoked cigarettes and weed. They both had medical marijuana cards issued by the state of California; they weren’t hard to get. Once inside the gated community, they strolled past the cavernous castle-like mansions and gleaming luxury cars, as if in a dream. They were confident, Nick said, that if anyone spotted them, they wouldn’t be thought out of place. They looked like “nor‑ mal kids”; he might be some neighbor’s boy; Rachel might be his girlfriend. “That’s the thing that really made everything flow when me and Rachel would go out and do these things,” Nick said. “We wouldn’t be masked, we wouldn’t be in gloves. We wouldn’t be conspicuous—we’d be just natural looking so if anything ever hap‑ pened we’d just be like, what? We’re normal kids. It wasn’t that we were criminals.” He said he could never remember the exact moment when he and Rachel decided to start burglarizing the homes of celebrities; but once they did, they knew right away that Paris would be the first. “Rachel’s idea,” he said, “and, I guess, my idea, was that she was dumb. Like, who would leave a door unlocked? Who would have a lot of money lying around? Logically out of anyone in America

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The Bling Ring

could probably figure out that if you were gonna do something to a celebrity it would be someone that wasn’t, you know, that bright. . . .” And then suddenly there was Paris’ house, rising before them like the villa of some Spanish contessa, all glowing yellow stone and Mediterranean tile. Nick tried to stay calm as he followed Rachel across the driveway to the front door. Their plan—well, not really a plan, it was more of an impulse, for as often as they had imagined this night, they had actually decided to just go and do it spontane‑ ously, after having a few drinks—their plan was just to ring the bell and see if anybody answered. And if somebody did, well, then, they might get to see Paris. And that would be awesome, in a funny kind of way. They would pretend they were just a couple of ditzy kids with the wrong address, kids out looking for a party. Rachel rang the bell, Nick said, putting on the innocent face he had seen her wear so many times before. Rachel was good at play‑ ing the pretty girl whenever adults were around asking questions. “She knew she was a good-looking girl and she knew there were certain things she could get away with. She knew how the system worked. She knew how you could play it.” She rang and rang again ​ . . . ​ but still there was no answer. Was Paris in, or out? Promoting her handbag line at some Tokyo de‑ partment store? Attending a Russian billionaire’s birthday party in Moscow (for a fee, of course)? Nick had been tracking Hilton’s whereabouts through her Twitter account and ce‑ lebrity news outlets like TMZ, but he wasn’t actually sure where she was that night. . . . Ding-dong.
Paris Hilton’s booking photo following her arrest for reckless driving, September 2006.

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Were they really going to do this thing? Or were they just going to go home with a funny story to tell their friends? And then, Nick said, the thought occurred to him just to look under the mat. It was like finding Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket when the glinting metal of the key appeared. Dumb was right. “Wow.” Inside it was like a Barbie Dreamhouse. There were images of Paris everywhere, framed photographs of Paris on the walls; framed magazine covers of Paris cover stories; framed pictures on tables of Paris with all her famous friends—there was Mariah Carey, Jessica Simpson, Fergie, Nicky Hilton (Paris’ sister), Nicole Richie (were they still close?). There were pictures of Paris in the bathrooms. Her face was silkscreened on couch pillows. There was a lot of pink, and there were crystal chandeliers in almost every room. Even the kitchen. It was like stepping into the girliest Hilton hotel you’ve ever seen. Nick said they walked around slowly, marveling that they were really there. “There was that percentage of wow, this is Paris Hilton’s house, but as soon as I put my foot in the door, I was just wanting to run out. ​ . . . ​ It was horrifying.” He wanted to leave, he said, but now Rachel was running up the stairs. Upstairs were the bedrooms, and the bedrooms had the closets, and the closets had the clothes. Nick said he followed Ra‑ chel to the master bedroom—it was chilly in there and smelled like the perfume counter in a department store. The room led out on to a balcony overlooking the pool and, beyond that, the rolling hills of the Valley, shimmering with lights. As they gazed in the direc‑ tion of their own homes from the vantage point of one of the most Googled people on the planet, they couldn’t help but laugh. The little dogs—Chihuahuas and a Pomeranian, Tinkerbell, Marilyn Monroe, Prince Baby Bear, Harajuku Bitch, Dolce and Prada—scurried around, regarding them curiously, but they didn’t bark. They must have been used to having strangers in the house.

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The Bling Ring

(About a year later, Hilton would build the dogs a 300-square-foot, $325,000 miniature of her home in the backyard. Philippe Starck would provide the furniture.) “Oh my God!” Nick said that Rachel squealed with delight when she found the closets. One was the size of a small room and the other the size of a small clothing store. It was like that scene where the dwarves discover the dragon’s treasure-laden lair in The Hobbit. One closet had a chandelier, and the other had furniture, as if Paris might want to just sit in there and look at all her stuff. The smaller closet had floor-to-ceiling shelves with hundreds of pairs of shoes, all lined up like trophies—Manolos, Louboutins, Jimmy Choos, a pair of YSLs shaped like the Eiffel Tower. There were shoes of every color— satiny, shiny, pointy shoes. Huge shoes. Size 11. The bigger closet was full of racks and racks of clothes. Nick had to smile. “Rachel, do your thing,” he said. And “she was rum‑ maging through everything, very, very into it, very focused, very ‘This is my mission.’  ” She was plowing through the racks of the wild, sparkly, feathery clothing, exclaiming over all the designers— this was Ungaro, that was Chanel! There were dresses, gowns, blouses, and coats by Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana and Versace and Diane von Furstenberg and Prada. ​ . . . ​ Nick said Rachel recognized some of the pieces from Paris’ public appearances; she followed these things; she knew which one Paris had worn to the VMAs and the Teen Choice Awards. He said she said it was like “going shopping.” Now he was starting to get nervous again. He decided to go and be the lookout from the top of the stairs; from there, you could see through the big windows to the front of the house. So Nick sta‑ tioned himself there. He was “sweating unnaturally,” he said. “Every five minutes I was yelling down the hall, ‘Let’s get the fuck out of here! I want to leave! Fuck this, I don’t care anymore!’ And she was like, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine, let’s keep going. . . .”

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He resented the way that Rachel was always in charge, no mat‑ ter what they did—he “hated that,” he said—but what could he do? This was “the girl [he] loved,” and he didn’t want to lose her. And although he’d never tested it, there was something about Rachel that said that if you didn’t do what Rachel wanted, she would walk. It wasn’t that he minded Rachel taking a few of Paris’s things— look at Paris’s house; she “had everything.” And she “didn’t really to contribute to society,” she wasn’t “some great actor like Anthony Hopkins or Johnny Depp, someone that’s really good at their craft.” She was an “heir head,” like the tabloids said, a “celebutard.” “It wasn’t like a malicious thing for me,” Nick said. “I wasn’t out to get, like, a working-class American.” But Nick did not want to get caught. He yelled again for Ra‑ chel to “hurry up and let’s get out of here!” But he said she just an‑ swered, “This is fine, this is okay, why are you tripping out?” And then he saw on the wall of the stairwell the portrait of Paris scowling down at him. She was wearing a little black cocktail dress and sitting on a settee with her legs folded underneath her. She looked like a Park Avenue princess who has become very dis‑ pleased about something. She was staring, glaring, as if to say, “How dare you come in my house and touch my stuff, bitch? I’m gonna get you. . . .” Nick bolted back down the hall to Rachel. She had selected a designer dress, he said—he couldn’t remember which, “there would be so many”—and a couple of Paris’ bras. He insisted that now it was time to leave—but not before they checked inside Paris’ purses. They knew from experience—for yes, they’d done this kind of thing before—that people with money tend to leave money lying around the house. And, sure enough, in the closet with the shoes and the sunglasses where Paris also kept her many bags—Fendi, Hermes, Balenciaga, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and on and on—they found “crumpled up cash, fifties, hundreds,” “which looked to us like she went shopping that day, and this was just her spare change.” Nick

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The Bling Ring

would remember the smell of the expensive leather, Rachel ooh‑ ing and aahing over the labels, and the crinkling sound of the bills. They came away with about $1,800 each—a good haul. And now it really was time to go. But first they couldn’t resist checking out the rest of the house. They wandered around—it was spooky, as if Paris were there somewhere, watching them. Paris could walk in at any time. They discovered the nightclub room with the disco ball and the padded bar. They thought about all the famous people who had been in there—Britney, Lindsay, Nicole, Nicky, Benji Madden (the Good Charlotte guitarist and then Paris’s boyfriend), Avril Lavigne. ​ . . . ​ They couldn’t help but imagine themselves there again someday, chilling, dancing, with Paris. Nick took a bottle of Grey Goose vodka for himself, and they left.

 

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