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Celebrity burglaries put spotlight on paparazzi

Victims' attorney says coverage provides a guide for criminals. But photographers say Google Maps and Twitter are more likely sources of information.

October 28, 2009|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein

The methods allegedly used by a group of teenagers suspected by authorities of burglarizing the homes of such stars as Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and Paris Hilton have again raised concerns about the intrusive glare of the paparazzi.

According to detectives, the group used celebrity websites and paparazzi photos to track schedules and movements of the people they are suspected of burglarizing.

They looked for times when the stars were scheduled to either be out of town or attending movie premieres and other events, police said.

"A good copy of a star map and some tabloid magazine, and you're good to go," said Blair Berk, a well-known Hollywood attorney who represents some of the victims.

Berk and others have expressed growing alarm at the extremes to which paparazzi go to chronicle celebrities' lives.

Three years ago, there was much discussion about a new, aggressive group of photographers who relentlessly followed certain young stars wherever they went.

Britney Spears was perhaps the most striking example, as photographers camped outside her home and followed her around Los Angeles in caravans.

Berk said such coverage provides a unwitting road map to anyone who wants to get close to celebrities.

"That [is] increasingly creating a very real danger in terms of mentally ill stalkers and criminals," she said.

Some celebrity photographers balk at the suggestion that their work makes stars more likely to be targeted by criminals.

Frank Griffin, the veteran paparazzo and head of the Bauer-Griffin photo agency, said it's easy to blame photographers -- but that there is actually little evidence that such shots leave stars vulnerable.

"You have to blame somebody, and you can't blame the ones who stole, can you?" he said. "You have to blame the villain."

Griffin noted that some stars give out their whereabouts on Twitter and Facebook and show off their expensive jewelry in magazines.

He also noted that technology -- from mapping websites to address searches -- can help burglars more than a paparazzi photo.

"Why don't we blame Google Maps or Google Earth?" he said.

Four teenagers -- Rachel Lee, 19; Diana Tamayo, 19; Courtney Ames, 18; and Alexis Neiers, 18 -- were arrested last week on suspicion of burglary in several recent cases involving celebrities.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has not filed charges against them.

LAPD sources said that detectives have linked the teenagers to break-ins at the homes of Hilton, Lohan, Bloom and Rachel Bilson, star of "The O.C."

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richard.winton@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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