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The ringleader of the infamous Bling Ring, who burgled celebrities’ homes between 2008-9, has spoken out for the first time – and claimed that she was driven by a deep insecurity and hatred of her Asian origins.
Rachel Lee was 19 when she and four others broke into the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, Orlando Bloom and others – noting their whereabouts on social media, and timing their break ins when they were out of town. The group stole goods worth an estimated $3 million, most of which was never recovered.
Lee was arrested in January 2010 and served 16 months in prison.
She has said that prison was the best thing that could have happened to her.
And, while the others appeared in documentaries or collaborated with Sofia Coppola for her 2013 film Bling Ring, starring Emma Watson, Lee tried to live a low key life, working as a hairdresser.
She said she changed her mind on getting to know Erin Lee Carr, who approached her to make a documentary of her story. It airs on HBO on Sunday.
Rachel Lee is pictured at the premiere of the HBO documentary The Ringleader: The Case Of The Bling Ring, on Wednesday
Rachel Lee and Erin Lee Carr, the documentary maker, at the premiere of the HBO film
Lee is seen following her January 2010 arrest for robbing the homes of famous Angelenos
A biker jacket that the gang stole from a celebrity home
Some of the purses the gang raided from a celebrity mansion
‘Any other reporter or production, I was always shaking,’ said Lee.
‘When I met Erin, I just felt like I was talking to a friend — like a human — and I wasn’t being attacked. I could slowly just open up, and it happened organically through blind faith.’
She told The Los Angeles Times she was finally able to address the years of insecurity and self-hatred as a Korean-American, and her deep desire to be white.
Asked why she robbed famous people’s homes, Lee replied: ‘It wasn’t necessarily to emulate celebrity, I just didn’t like me.
‘I was born here, so I didn’t actually visit Korea until last year, but I knew some idea about my culture because of my grandparents and my parents. I was just such a minority at my schools that I felt too different.
‘And then at my high schools, the word ‘chink’ would just roll off people’s tongues.
‘I didn’t realize how delusional I was about myself until prison. I didn’t realize how much I hated myself, how much I hated being Asian and how much I wanted to be white.
‘I just would ask God all the time, ‘Why did you do this to me? Why did you put me in this position where I look so weird compared to everyone?”
Four of the five are caught on camera during one of their thefts. They were eventually captured thanks to high quality surveillance camera footage from the home of Audrina Patridge, star of reality show The Hills
Lee is seen with Nick Prugo, her fellow thief. Prugo, who was Lee’s closest ally, was sentenced to two years in prison, and served one
Lee said that her time behind bars gave her space to think about her life, and who she had become.
She said she realized she was horribly vain – having no mirrors in prison was a shock to her, she said.
‘I felt really empty inside,’ she said.
‘I consider [prison] my birth. I started over because I had no foundation, I didn’t have any moral compass.
‘In there, I got grounded with who I wanted to be. I want to be a good person. I want to be a kind person. I want to be a strong person — I’m working on that. I want to be an honest person.’
Lee, who was born in Calabasas, said she is not in contact with the other four – Nick Prugo, Alexis Neiers, Courtney Ames and Diana Tamayo.
Two others – Johnny Ajar and Roy Lopez – were later recruited by Ames to sell the stolen items.
Prugo, who was Lee’s closest ally, was sentenced to two years in prison, and served one.
But on his release, in 2015, he was charged with stalking and solicitation to commit sexual assault.
He received 350 hours of community service and three years probation, and now lives in LA with his husband.
Neiers was given her own show on the E! Network, Pretty Wild, not long before her arrest in 2010.
During filming, she was abusing drugs and was frequently high.
She spent a month at Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, California — while Lohan was serving her own time.
On her release Neiers went to rehab, married and had two children, and is now divorced and working as a rehab counsellor in Malibu.
Ames was given probation and community service, then went on to studied psychology, speech and child development at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, California, Us Weekly reported.
And Tamayo, who was also sentenced to probation and community service, is now a personal trainer.
Rachel Lee (left) and Courtney Ames
Diana Tamayo (left) and Alexis Neiers
Nick Prugo, who Lee said was her closest ally in the gang
Paris Hilton is seen showing off her jewelry – which inspired and directed the gang
The group robbed up to $3 million worth of belongings from celebrities
The gang would follow celebrities on social media and know when they were out of town
Lee said that ‘God and my family’ now kept her on the straight and narrow.
‘In a time where I thought that my whole family would disown me, they didn’t,’ she said.
‘I was sober in prison, I was sober out of prison. It helped me be with a sober mind, truly, and to be really conscious about the type of friends I’m bringing into my life.
‘I used to be such an impulsive person, sometimes I still am, but now after getting out of prison, I just was more asking myself, ‘Why are you thinking that? Why did you do that?’
‘And then I have a love for crystals. That’s an aesthetic, but also a reminder for the properties that crystals hold.’
Lee said that she thinks the idea of her as the ringleader is ‘unfair’, because the others were equally guilty.
‘Everyone is responsible for their own actions. I never forced anyone to do anything,’ she said.
But she said she was forcing herself to make the documentary to own her past, and to show that people can change.
Lee said she made the documentary to show that people can change
‘The reason why I did this is because I like to hide. I’ve been that way since a kid,’ said Lee.
‘But I have big emotions, and a huge part of me felt like if I have all these big emotions and I can’t talk about them, what will happen to me? What kind of life, what kind of outcome? I feel like that’s how sicknesses and illnesses and depressions come.
‘I felt like, well, I acknowledge that I really messed up in my past, but does that mean I don’t deserve a second chance?
‘So I want to use myself as an example. I want to be a conversation starter. I just wanted more communication and connectedness in this world for me.’
Carr, the documentary maker, said it was hard at times to get Lee to open up.
But she hoped the film gave viewers the opportunity to make their own minds up, based on Lee’s own words rather than those of others.
‘Take the information and decide for yourself,’ said Carr.
‘I provide the information, with music with all these things, but also so that when people watch this, it’s not me telling them what to think, it’s how they feel.’