TMZ calls them the ‘ Burglar Bunch,’ but the teenagers who allegedly stole from Paris and Lindsay are turning on each other. Nicole LaPorte goes inside the band of thieves.
The pugnacious tomboy; the aspiring model; the stiletto-heeled mastermind; the beanie-wearing wallflower.
Judd Apatow movie? Not quite. Those are the real-life suspects—christened “ the burglar bunch” by TMZ—who were arrested last week for allegedly breaking into the homes of Hollywood celebrities, including Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, and stealing millions of dollars' worth of jewelry, cash, and high heels.
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But if it’s not a movie yet, that may change. According to the attorney of one of the charged thieves, he’s been getting calls about turning the salacious saga into a movie.
And why not? The behind-the-scenes reality is far more gripping, and gritty, than anything on The Hills. But despite TMZ’s warm, fuzzy moniker, there’s nothing “bunch”-y about the teens.
According to several sources, they’re throwing each other under the bus in an ugly blame game that is splintering up a clan referred to, in the colloquial valley-speak of their native Calabasas—a hilly, affluent suburb north of Los Angeles—as “the Bro’s and Ho’s.”
Nicholas Prugo, 18, was arrested last month, after he was identified in videos of the burglaries at the homes of Lindsay Lohan and Hills star Audrina Patridge. His arrest triggered the other arrests last week, and Prugo is now receiving the bulk of the hate. His once-close friends declare that it’s his fault they’re being dragged into the dirt (and into the courts).
A source close to Courtney Ames—one of the alleged thieves, who was a pal of Nick Prugo’s from Indian Hills, a high school for troubled teens—said that Ames “wants to kill the kid. Everyone’s mad at Nick.”
A source close to Courtney Ames—one of the alleged thieves, who was a pal of Prugo’s from Indian Hills, a high school for troubled teens—said that Ames “wants to kill the kid. Everyone’s mad at Nick.”
“Everyone” would be fellow arrestees Alexis Neiers, the aspiring model (and sister of Playboy model Tess Taylor); Roy Lopez; and Rachel Lee and Diana Tamayo, both of whom are also Indian Hills alums.
Over the last few days, the teens—who are also suspected of breaking into the homes of Orlando Bloom; Rachel Bilson of The O.C.; and Heroes’ Hayden Panettiere—have been released on bail and are awaiting arraignment, with the exception of Tamayo, who is being held over immigration issues.
Sources with knowledge of the drama say that this is just the beginning, and that in coming weeks, more “dirt” will be discovered.
In the meantime, the sordid soap opera is driving a stake in a group of wayward, wealthy teenagers, who grew up in the outskirts of Hollywood—outsiders who would seemingly do anything to get closer to the bright light of fame.
The group was aimless, more into partying than school. Weekends, inevitably involved “a Valley party, where everyone’s just standing around with a case of beer and drinking,” said a source. Occasionally, there were excursions to Hollywood clubs, such as Les Deux.
Sometimes their activities were less innocent. Earlier this year, Prugo was arrested in Malibu for possession of drugs and is on probation, according to his attorney. And last year, Lee and Tamayo were nabbed for stealing $85 worth of beauty products from Sephora, according to People.com.
Still, friends of the crew were alarmed that they possibly took their delinquency to such bizarre extremes.
Prugo is described as quiet and reserved, and sources close to him say they were surprised to read in the New York Post how, after stealing a pair of Hilton’s heels, he allegedly slipped them on and did a little dance.
Other than wearing a beanie, he dressed “normal” and was somewhat socially awkward, having trouble starting conversations.
If anyone was flamboyant it was Ames, a rough-and-tumble tomboy, who wore Converse Hi-tops, drove a stick-shift Eclipse (a gift from her dad, who “bought her everything”), and slugged it out with other girls.
“She always thought she could fight, like a real fight,” said one of Ames’ friends. “It starts with pushing, and then the other girl will start pulling hair and crying. It’s happened a few times.”
But Ames appeared to be trying to make right with her life—when the police showed up at her house last week, she was getting ready to leave for her 12:45 p.m. speech and debate class at Pierce Community College.
Ames was part of a mostly female crowd Prugo gravitated toward, and, until recently, they were extremely close.
“Nick and Courtney used to be close before the whole robbery, but then Courtney just started to stay away from him, gradually, more and more,” said a source, who added that Ames said she started pulling back from Prugo when he told her about the robberies months ago. This person believes Prugo retaliated by “ratting on her, because she didn’t want to talk to him anymore.”
The first robbery was the ransack of Hilton’s home in December, from which $2 million worth of jewelry was pilfered. Dawn Miller, Hilton’s publicist, released a statement that said “Paris went to the police station to retrieve her stolen belongings, she didn’t get everything but fortunately most of her jewelry was returned. She is really pleased and thankful to the LAPD for their help.”
If Ames was the clique’s most outspoken member, Rachel Lee, a skirt-and-heels-wearing Mean Girl type was the group’s ringleader, who is being blamed for masterminding the crime spree.
“Rachel was the nucleus,” says a source, who says that when things got heated last week, Lee “took off” for Las Vegas, where she was arrested.
Lee and Prugo are also now feuding, and Neiers has been slamming Prugo to the press, telling TMZ.com: “I know for a fact Nick did all of these burglaries. He did every single burglary, he told me this… Nick is blaming people, trying to get the blame off himself.”
Prugo’s lawyer, Sean Erenstoft, said all of these claims of innocence are false. He defended his client, saying, “Nick is satisfied that the principal players in this matter have been identified, and he’s satisfied that his limited role can be placed in relative perspective.”
“They’re all just trying to throw blame,” said Erenstoft.
After all, that’s what kids do.
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former film reporter for Variety, she has also written for The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times, The New York Observer, and W.