Secret grand jury testimony reveals stars’ loss

LOS ANGELES — Roughly two weeks before a judge would sentence her to jail, Lindsay Lohan sat in a downtown courtroom and recounted to a grand jury how a burglar’s black fingerprints on her wall left her so unnerved that she had to move.

Moments later, Orlando Bloom told the same panel how a break-in at his home had left him distrustful of those around him, especially after he realized his carefully hidden collection of watches had been plundered.

The appearance of Lohan, Bloom and four other celebrities in late June before a Los Angeles County grand jury went unnoticed. Yet their testimony helped indict five young people who authorities claim desperately craved what the stars had and were willing to cut through fences and climb through a doggie door to get.

The stars’ reactions revealed in recently unsealed testimony obtained by The Associated Press offers the most detailed account so far of the personal toll that resulted from the rash of celebrity break-ins by the so-called “Bling Ring” between October 2008 and August 2009. One ring member pleaded out and served time; the five others face trial later this year.

Lohan’s testimony typified the fear felt by the celebrities whose homes had been targeted: “That night I went back to the house, I just felt, to be honest, so violated and uncomfortable that I literally packed as much stuff as I could,” Lohan told the jurors, “because it wasn’t about the things that were taken, it was just the fact that someone came into the only private space that I have in my life at this point.”

One-by-one, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge and Paris Hilton also recounted for grand jurors how they walked into their supposedly secure Hollywood Hills homes to find them ransacked and looted.

Brian Austin Green told the jury how the burglary of his home — the last one targeted — was so stealthy that he thought his missing items were simply misplaced. It wasn’t until a detective called and told him his stolen Sig Sauer handgun had been recovered that he realized he’d been robbed.

Some of the items stolen were eventually returned. But still outstanding are several irreplaceable personal items, including Bilson’s mother’s engagement ring that she gave to “The O.C.” star.

For a while, the actors told jurors, their belongings had been replaced with a sense of vulnerability and dread.

“It took me a while to feel comfortable staying there,” Bilson said of her home. “I wouldn’t sleep in my bedroom for about a month.

“And I was convinced that I needed to sell my house and get out of there, because I was very scared,” she told jurors. “But I’m still there.”

Deputy District Attorney Sarika Kim, who is handling the prosecution, urged jurors to overlook the stars’ wealth and celebrity.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kim told the grand jury in closing remarks. “The fact that you are able to replace property doesn’t matter. And in fact, we heard evidence in this case some of the folks weren’t able to replace any of the property. Some folks lost items of sentimental value.”

“And I think the one thing that was abundantly clear from listening to the testimony of all of the victims was what they lost most importantly was a sense of security,” Kim said.

None of the stars have testified in open court. Bloom likely would have been the first, but Alexis Neiers, who was charged with his break-in, took a plea deal before trial. An aspiring model and reality television star, Neiers served 30 days in jail.

But the celebrities could still take the stand if any of the members of the Bling Ring go to trial. The five remaining defendants had been previously charged and the actors’ grand jury testimony eliminated the need for a preliminary hearing.

The testimony led to indictments for felony residential burglary against Nicholas Frank Prugo, Rachel Lee, Roy Lopez Jr., Courtney Leigh Ames and Diana Tamayo. All five pleaded not guilty on July 2 and are due back in court on Sept. 20 for a pretrial conference.

Many of the details of the actual break-ins given to the grand jury have been revealed in search warrants and other court filings, but most of the stars have refrained from talking publicly about their losses.

Lohan’s testimony came during a turbulent streak in her life. Her appearance on June 18 occurred roughly two weeks before a judge handling her criminal case sentenced the “Mean Girls” star to jail for a probation violation.

For 40 minutes, Lohan described coming home with her sister early last August to find her rented house in complete disarray.

“My front door wasn’t locked, and it usually always was,” Lohan said. “My alarm didn’t sound, and I usually had to turn it off. And everything that I had was kind of thrown, and everything was pretty much disheveled.”

A fur coat, two paintings and high-end jewelry and clothing were missing. When Lohan stepped into her closet, she told jurors, she saw her safe had been moved and black fingerprints were on her white walls.

She said that after she packed up what she had left, she never returned to that house. “I don’t ever plan on going back to that house,” she said. “It was like, such an invasion of privacy, and it’s just eerie.”

Bloom, who estimated his losses at half a million dollars or more, said he immediately suspected he’d been robbed by a close friend or someone who worked for him.

“It’s just awful because you are suddenly second-guessing everything,” Bloom told the jury. “You are like, ‘Who has been in my house?’ You know, the value of things kind of fades away. It’s really about who is it, who am I starting to question?”

The “Pirates of the Caribbean” star said only some of his items — mostly clothes and one of his prized watches — was ever returned. He testified that clothing of his then-girlfriend, model Miranda Kerr, also was stolen. Bloom and Kerr have since married.

His house, which one detective likened to the “Bat Cave” because it couldn’t be seen from the street or the air, was targeted in July 2009.

Authorities estimate that there is at least $2 million of the stars’ property that has not been recovered. They suspect that Lee, one of the group’s alleged masterminds, may have hidden the goods before her arrest at her father’s home in Las Vegas.

Lee allegedly offered to return some of the stolen property to detectives in exchange for leniency, according to transcripts and other court filings.

A Louis Vuitton bag full of jewelry was returned to Paris Hilton after several alleged members of the group were arrested in October.

Prugo, another alleged Bling Ring mastermind, told authorities that Hilton’s home was actually targeted numerous times before a December 2008 heist nabbed the socialite’s jewelry and luxury clothes.

Hilton told the grand jury that she first noticed something was amiss when she spotted dirty shoe prints leading up the stairs to her bedroom.

“My closet where all my jewelry is kept had been ransacked and, you know, basically two full entire shelves were, I guess, pushed into a bag,” Hilton told the panel. Also gone was a topless photo of the socialite, which detectives said was recovered from Lee’s home.

Hilton’s home also was recently targeted by a man who authorities say showed up at the residence armed with two knives. Prosecutors have charged Nathan Lee Parada with one count of attempted felony burglary, although his case does not appear related to the Bling Ring.

Since the break-ins, several of the stars said they took greater caution with their home security. Despite their wealth and sophisticated security systems, several of the celebrities told jurors they couldn’t remember if they set their alarms, or even locked their doors, on the days of the break-ins.

“We have always sort of lived a very, I guess, trusting lifestyle and we just didn’t set the alarm,” Bilson said. “I now do, every time I leave the house. Even if it’s for 20 minutes.”

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