Rachel Lee, a key organizer of the Bling Ring, finally speaks out in HBO doc

"The Ringleader: The Case of the Bling Ring" examines Lee's role in the high-profile burglaries of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and other Hollywood celebs.

Rachel Lee, one of the key organizers of the infamous Bling Ring, is profiled in The Ringleader: The Case of the Bling Ring (HBO)
Rachel Lee, one of the key organizers of the infamous Bling Ring, is profiled in The Ringleader: The Case of the Bling Ring. (HBO) (HBO)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Rachel Lee, a primary organizer of the infamous Bling Ring from the late 2000s that pulled off a string of brazen robberies from the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and other celebrities to the tune of millions of dollars, finally told her side of the story in a new HBO documentary where she shoulders much of blame and admits to being one of at least two organizers.

In The Ringleader: The Case of the Bling Ring, directed by Erin Lee Carr, Rachel Lee talks about her upbringing and what she thinks led to the behavior that resulted in an estimated $3 million in stolen high-end goods and eventually the capture and conviction of Lee and a number of her cohorts. (Here is a full timeline of events surrounding the Bling Ring case.)

How she got into stealing

Lee was raised in Calabasas, an affluent suburb of Los Angeles made famous in recent years for being the dwelling place of most of the Kardashians. Lee said she and her family had the smallest house on the block, and she struggled to make friends in part because she was ashamed of her Korean heritage.

Lee said that she liked to snoop through her mom’s stuff when she was a teenager and told a story about one time finding a briefcase with a stack of fresh $100 bills, remembering the feeling of the crisp money and thinking that nobody would notice if she took just one.

As she got further into high school, Lee said she had grown tired of all the studying and college preparation and remembers thinking, “I wanna be a badass.”

So she started partying more and meeting different people. Eventually Lee, who said she struggled with FOMO “really badly” in her younger years, became hooked on Xanax.

“It took away my emotion and because I didn't care, I could act the way I always wanted to do,” Lee said. “And I wanted to party.”

Later, Lee was kicked out of Calabasas High School after she and a friend stole two pairs of Ugg boots from the locker room. Lee refused to cop to it even though her friend admitted to the theft.

Meeting Nick Prugo

After getting kicked out of high school, Lee went to continuation school where she met and became close friends with Nick Prugo (now Nick Norgo), who would eventually become her main co-conspirator in the Bling Ring.

Rachel Lee and Nick Prugo as seen in The Ringleader: The Case of the Bling Ring. (HBO)
Rachel Lee and Nick Prugo as seen in The Ringleader: The Case of the Bling Ring. (HBO) (HBO)

Their crimes started out with them just checking car door handles when leaving parties and stealing contents from the unlocked ones. They graduated into checking mailboxes to see if people were out of town so they could break into their homes. Then, Lee said, Prugo found a website that listed every single celebrity address which they thought was like hitting the “jackpot.”

The crimes

Their first celebrity home robbery was Paris Hilton’s house in 2008, which they were able to enter using a key that was found under the front door mat. Lee said they went there multiple times, and at one point she found “a lot” of cocaine in the house, which they also took.

The more Lee and Prugo were ripping off celebrity homes, Lee said she was getting hooked on the feelings of the crime: the anxiety before, the adrenaline during and the “clear-headed” and energy-inducing feeling after it was over.

"I didn't like my world," Lee said. "Going to a celebrity home and trying on their stuff, I was able to live in their world."

Lee and Prugo began to include more and more people into their thefts, some to help move the stolen goods and some to help them gain better access to the rich and famous. And when it comes to a motive for the crime spree, Lee said that she thinks everyone invovled had a different reason for doing it.

“For me it was like, honestly, when I started watching those Fast and Furious, Ocean’s 11 movies,” Lee said. “I was like, ‘Icon. I want to be that.’ I don’t know why I thought like that, but I did.”

At one point during the doc, Lee said she never sold anything but did give a lot away. But when prodded further by the director, Lee remembered a story of taking a bunch of stolen goods to the Venice boardwalk and selling it all for $20 apiece and selling out in about 15 minutes.

The downfall

The first time Lee knew she might be in trouble is when TMZ had security footage from Audrina Patridge’s home robbery and later, similar footage from Lohan’s residence was released. Shortly after that, Lee said she met with Prugo in his car and told him that she loved him and that she would never betray him. But within 24 hours he went to the police and started confessing to everything.

Later, it was a phone call from Prugo to Lee that confirmed Lee’s location for police, and they swarmed her house shortly after to arrest her.

The “ringleader”

In the aftermath of the crimes and with the pending case ahead, Lee was told by her lawyers to keep quiet. But others in the group — including Prugo — were talking to the media and began to create the narrative that Lee was the ringleader.

In the doc, Lee initially pushed back on the idea that she was the ringleader, claiming that she had never even met Roy Lopez (a bouncer and member of the Bling Ring) in person, and that she and Alexis Neiers (a Bling Ring member with access to celebrities) “weren’t even friends.”

After further reflection and pressing from Carr, Lee was able to sum up her role a little more clearly.

“For a lot of people that were involved in the Bling Ring, it was kind of like a one time thing for them. And I think for me and Nick it was very repetitive. So I feel like if anybody was the ringleader, it was me and him, because I feel like we did it just as much. He and I were both equally as aggressive, and both equally as passive,” she said.

But later, Lee again dug into her and Prugo’s roles in the events and she elaborated further on the dynamic between the pair.

“This is very extreme, what I’m going to say, but it is my truth. And to be honest I feel like I was one of his victims. I feel like he ... I was the perfect person that he could just dig his claws into."

The aftermath

Lee pleaded no contest to the burglary of over $25,000 worth of valuables from Patridge's home and was sentenced, in 2011, to four years in prison. She served one year and four months. Prugo pleaded no contest to the burglaries of Patridge and Lohan and was sentenced in 2013 to two years in prison. He served one year.

Lindsay Lohan was one of several Hollywood celebrities victimized in a string of crimes perpetrated by the Bling Ring. (HBO)
Lindsay Lohan was one of several Hollywood celebrities victimized in a string of crimes perpetrated by the Bling Ring. (HBO) (HBO)

Lee, who’s now in her 30s, only served a fraction of her four-year prison sentence, but it was still an impactful time for her. Part of her sentence included something called fire camp, where prisoners work with the fire department to support local, state and federal agencies in their response to emergencies such as fires and floods, and complete community service and conservation projects. She said being around a group of women who were truly trying to better themselves made its mark on her.

In looking back, Lee recognizes that she hurt a lot of people with her crimes, emotionally speaking.

“It’s really stressful thinking about the past, ‘cause it’s so far from where I am today. It’s quite disturbing actually,” Lee said. “I think I, honestly, was a sociopath. I think I honestly didn’t care about anybody or anything.”

Lee admitted that, in part because of her Xanax and other drug use at the time, she still doesn’t have her story quite straight.

“There’s a lot of holes in my story.”

And as her story moves forward, it won’t include Prugo. Lee said that in Sofia Coppola’s 2013 film The Bling Ring, she thinks a narrated line from Prugo’s character was a message for her when he says: “She was like a sister. And if I could do it all over again I wouldn’t have hurt her.”

“But I'll never allow him in my life again, no matter what,” she added.

Lee, who admitted to still lying accidentally or unconsciously to this day, has done a lot to repair her family relationships, but says she still struggles with friends because of what she went through. But ultimately, she’s on a better path.

“All of these members of this group, every single one of our truths is truth, to thyself. It’s a footprint in time, it’s there forever. But now I'm finally getting to know who I really am. At least i think so.”

The Ringleader: The Case of the Bling Ring is streaming on Max.