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Hollywood's 'Bling Ring' Leaves Celebs Shaken

Roughly two weeks before a judge would sentence her to jail in July 2010, 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 leave her rented Hollywood bungalow.

Lindsay Lohan
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Lindsay Lohan

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

The June 2010, appearance of Lohan, Bloom and four other celebrities 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 it.

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.

The Bling Ring quickly gained notoriety in late 2008 for a pretty hefty list of burglaries — they allegedly stole more than $2 million worth of designer clothes and precious jewels from some of the world's best-known celebrities, including Paris Hilton, Bloom and Lohan.

"They weren't primarily motivated by money, they were almost taking pieces of the fame, of the people whose houses they entered." -Attorney for Bling Ring member Nick Prugo, Daniel Horowitz

CNBC's American Greed recently spoke with numerous investigators, attorneys and even Bling Ring participants about the heists.

"They weren't primarily motivated by money, they were almost taking pieces of the fame, of the people whose houses they entered," said attorney Daniel Horowitz.

It all started in 2006 when Nick Prugo met Rachel Lee at Indian Hills High School in Agoura Hills, Calif. The two hit it off quickly, and spent a lot of time together, allegedly even breaking into homes and unlocked cars, grabbing thousands in cash, and spending the money on extravagant shopping sprees along Beverly Hills' famous Rodeo Drive.

"From the time that they were in high school, the two of them committed untold hundreds of crimes," said Los Angeles Police Department Detective Brett Goodkin.

As their successful thefts mounted, Prugo and Lee started bragging about their crimes, and it wasn't long before acquaintances wanted to join them, police said. Courtney Ames, Diana Tamayo, Alexis Neiers and Roy Lopez Jr., rounded out the gang and together, they hatched a plan to get a piece of their favorite celebrities by breaking into their homes.

Police said the ring's burglaries of celebrity homes would start with Lee surfing the Web or flipping through magazines to scope out the wardrobes of stars. When she would spot something she liked, Prugo and Lee would log onto social networking sites and monitor the celebs schedules.

Alexis Neiers
CNBC
Alexis Neiers

"People know when you're doing these huge events and they know when you're out on the red carpet, or, you know what you're doing and Twitter and Facebook is definitely an enabler for these people to get attached to your life or your lifestyle or what you're doing," said Bling Ring member Alexis Neiers, who also was a reality television star.

And so, through close monitoring of her schedule, police say the Bling Ring set its sights on their first celebrity target: Paris Hilton.

In October 2008, the Bling Ring allegedly cased Hilton's 7,000-square-foot Hollywood Hills home on the Internet, using a site called celebrityaddressaerial.com, which shows an aerial view of celebrity homes and charges $19.99 a month or $99 a year for a subscription.

The Bling Ring finds the key to Hilton's home

"By the time they went and did the burglary at Miss Hilton's house, they had done untold amounts of residential burglary. So it wasn't their first time at the dance," said LAPD's Goodkin. "They didn't have that kind of nervousness that maybe would have gotten them caught."

Paris Hilton
Donna Ward | Getty Images
Paris Hilton

The ring reportedly found a key beneath Hilton's doormat, which they used to unlock the door and waltz right in.

"They went through the place like termites and took what they wanted and hung out and, you know, partied and I'm sure just reveled in the fact that they were in a famous person's home," Goodkin said.

Police say Hilton didn't notice anything missing from the first robbery and the ring was able to return to her home as many as 10 times before she found that most of her jewelry collection was missing.

"When you go into somebody's house and take $2 million worth of jewels, they notice," said Jeffery Rubenstein, attorney for Neiers.

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.

None of the stars have testified in open court. Bloom likely would have been the first, but Neiers, who was charged with his break-in, took a plea deal before trial. The aspiring model and reality television star 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 Prugo, Lee, Lopez, Ames and Tamayo. All five pleaded not guilty on July 2, 2010, and still await trial.

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.

Orlando Bloom
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Orlando Bloom

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 — were returned. He testified that clothing of his then-girlfriend, model Miranda Kerr, was also 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.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Episode 43 of American Greed, The Bling Ring and The Fraudster, The Ex-Stripper and The Missing Millions premieres Wednesday March 9th at 10p | 1a ET.

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