Ever since the group of California teenagers behind the Bling Ring burglaries were caught in 2009, Rachel Lee has been called “the ringleader.”
Over a decade later, following books, reality shows, and a Sofia Coppola movie all about the famous case, Lee is finally sharing her side of the story for the first time in Erin Lee Carr’s new HBO documentary, The Ringleader: The Case of the Bling Ring.
“While there’s been a lot of content out there, this is the only thing that ever features her point of view,” Carr told MovieMaker ahead of the documentary’s Oct. 1 premiere date on HBO.
Who Was in The Bling Ring and What Did They Do?
Starting in 2008 while they were still in high school, Lee and her friend Nick Prugo began breaking into cars in Agoura Hills and Calabasas and stealing the cash and credit cards they found. Soon, they graduated to breaking into local homes, which later escalated to targeting the homes of celebrities including Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Megan Fox, Audrina Patridge, and Lindsay Lohan, from whom clothes, jewelry, handbags, drugs, and other personal items were stolen.
Over time, more high school friends joined the Bling Ring burglaries, including Alexis Neiers, Diana Tamayo, Courtney Ames.
But the whole operation came crashing down in 2009, when Nick Prugo told police who the other members of the Bling Ring were and they were all arrested.
Ultimately, Lee pleaded no contest to the theft of over $250,000 in valuables from Patridge’s home and was sentenced to 4 years in prison, of which she served 16 months. Prugo pleaded no contest to the Patridge and Lohan burglaries and was sentenced to 2 years in prison, of which he served one year. Neiers pleaded no contest to the burglary of Bloom’s home and was sentenced to six months in prison, of which she served 30 days. Ames pleaded no contest to burglarizing Hilton’s home and Tamayo pleaded no contest to burglarizing Lopez’s home, but each was spared prison sentences and instead given probation and community service, according to Yahoo! Entertainment.
How Erin Lee Carr Got Rachel Lee to Open Up
All of the other people involved in the Bling Ring have spoken about the case in the past — except for Rachel Lee. 10 years since her release from prison in 2013, Lee is finally ready to speak out for the first time. But it wasn’t easy for Carr to convince her.
At first, Lee was hesitant — she’d been approached countless times over the years to tell her story but had never taken the bait. Carr was persistent and eventually gained her trust.
“I remember Rachel was very fearful about getting in any more trouble as a result of this, but was always talking about how scared she was inside the houses. And I was like, ‘Rachel, if you were that scared, you wouldn’t have done it over and over and over and over and over again. There was something about it, that was a high-seeking behavior, where you felt like you were getting what you wanted. I need you to be honest with me about that,'” Carr says.
Over dozens of hours of interviews and conversations, Lee got comfortable enough to share the reasons why she did the robberies.
“She talks about how there was fear, there was anxiety, there was excitement, but there was also the clearness and the clarity which the crime afforded her,” Carr says. “After she did the crime, and she had the stuff and she had the drugs, she just felt so high. And I think that that was the ultimate thing that she wanted.”
Lee also denies accusations from Prugo and the media that she was “ringleader” or “mastermind” of the Bling Ring, arguing instead that she and Prugo were equal partners in crime, and that the rest of the Bling Ring members got involved later and participated in fewer burglaries than themselves.
Lee also opens up about her addiction to Xanax.
“She didn’t care what happened to her when she was high on Xanax,” Carr says. “She didn’t care what her actions were, she didn’t care how she treated people. And once she was able to understand how dangerous it was for her, and she finally flushed the pills down the toilet, that’s when she began to sort of wake up, mentally and understand that all of this was happening because of consequences.”
Where Is Rachel Lee Now?
Since being released from prison in 2013, Rachel Lee has become a hairstylist. Today, she’s 30 years old and currently lives in California. She has also mended her relationship with her father, with whom she was living in Las Vegas when she was arrested for the robberies.
But Carr expects Lee will likely continue living a private life.
“She, I think, has put her social media on private,” Carr says.
For those questioning why Carr wanted to give Lee a voice in the documentary, she says she wanted Lee to finally get to tell her side of the story, which she’s kept quiet for over a decade.
“There might be this reaction of audiences being like, why spend time talking to someone who did these things? Like, why this person versus all the other people that deserve to have their story told?” Carr says. “I’m really interested in all the days that came before the crime, and after. She’ll live in a world where she feels like her side of the story was reflected.”
Yes, Lee has watched the documentary — and yes, she approves.
“I showed her the film two weeks ago in L.A. I sat with her during it, and I’m sober, so I didn’t get to drink any wine when that was happening, which was horribly stressful,” Carr laughs. “I think the reality is reflected in it… she felt very represented.”
The Ringleader: The Case of the Bling Ring premieres on Sunday, Oct. 1 on HBO.
Main Image: Rachel Lee pictured in The Ringleader: The Case of The Bling Ring courtesy of HBO