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tv   2020  ABC  July 6, 2013 10:00pm-11:01pm PDT

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>> announcer: once again, "20/20 saturday" hollywood vice. >> reporter: paris hilton seems to thrive on attention almost anywhere, any time. but not the kind of attention she was getting from nick prugo -- he was robbing her blind as a member of the alleged
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bling ring. >> we'd find their house just by, like, google earth or, you know, easy stuff. >> reporter: at his computer, the teenager says he was looking for a way in online. >> it's quite shocking. you can zoom in. and with some of these satellite imaging products, you don't get just a straight down view, you can get as the bird flies. so you get each angle of the house. >> reporter: prugo says he was helping his friend rachel lee with what he says she called "going shopping." in reality, he's helping with a string of alleged capers that begins in the wee morning hours after a night of partying at the doorstep of paris hilton. was it exciting, the planning, when you guys would be figuring out here's how we get in, here's how we'll do it? >> i mean, it was. it was like "mission: impossible," kind of, you know, like i'm a secret agent, if you will. and when it actually came time to do it, i'd always have to have rachel lead or, you know, help me. >> reporter: and how would she convince you? >> she would just go and i'd follow. >> reporter: apparently, the only thing easier than convincing nick was getting into hilton's home.
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prugo says they found a key to paris' front door under the mat and the alarm was unarmed. his heart racing, nick says before he knew it -- you're in somebody else's house. >> yeah. i mean, and, you know, it was horrifying. i was really genuinely scared. and rachel was just like going back and forth in the rooms, checking, like, grabbing clothes for herself and, you know, all this stuff. and i'm just like, "can we go? like, let's go. like, someone's gonna come home." >> reporter: there was everything you guys wanted in that house, right? >> i think that's what, you know, led to so many more. it's 'cause this first time we did this, we found eight grand in cash. >> reporter: $8,000? >> i mean, and that was -- that's a lot of money. >> reporter: but nick says for rachel lee, it wasn't about the cash, it was about designer clothing. here in this video, he says the bra rachel is adjusting belongs to paris hilton. >> this is not just about, i want her clothes. this is about, i want her life. i want to be in her midst. i want to know what it's like to even use her bathroom. >> reporter: and now, with a key
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to paris' front door, police say nick prugo and rachel lee would burglarize hilton time and time again. why go back? >> because it was -- it was like almost a sure thing, you know? she's out every night and just, you know -- i mean, it was just easy. >> reporter: these kids knew what they were gonna get every time they went in. >> reporter: officer brett goodkin investigated the bling ring. he says they took hilton for more than $2 million in jewelry and cash. >> and they had lists. they wanted this. they wanted that. they wanted that painting. they wanted that watch. they wanted these shoes in that size. and that's what they took. >> reporter: nick and rachel's greed, police say, would spread like a virus. how often would you guys plan a new mark? >> whenever we'd run out of money, or if rachel wanted new outfit. >> reporter: prugo says lee would suggest a celebrity target, then they would go to work. and you would just pick a celebrity mark and you'd go through the same process every time, or was one caper different than the next? >> well, now, we'd have more people on our team. >> reporter: he says this is bittersweet because his real
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motivation is staying close to rachel lee. >> you know -- why bring someone else into it? it just makes it more complicated. it makes -- it's almost more, it's like organized crime. you know, it's just more people. >> reporter: and on an emotional level, somebody was getting between you and rachel? >> not to sound like sick or anything. but it was like, it made me like, you know, upset because it was like this person is taking my, like, alone time with rachel. >> reporter: and nick says more friends of rachel wanted in on their scheme. there would be courtney ames, the girl who likes tattoos and a good party, and wannabe reality star alexis neiers. in the months to come, police say the bling ring celebrity targets would include actress lindsay lohan, audrina patridge, a regular on the reality series "the hills," former star of "the o.c." rachel bilson, and actress megan fox. they were all girls. >> yeah. >> reporter: why was that? >> so the targets were girls. all the clothes, purses, shoes, whatever.
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you know, every girl likes new clothes. >> reporter: so she sees this model who dates orlando bloom. >> right. >> reporter: she's like, "i like those clothes, let's go to their house?" >> yeah. >> reporter: surveillance video later obtained by police show nick and a group of hooded girls walking backwards into bloom's home to avoid being caught on camera. you guys would have special rules, right? >> cover your face, you know? we usually wore hoodies and just try to, like, look down and even walk backwards, in the orlando bloom case, because we didn't always know where the cameras were all the time. >> reporter: after a while, police say, nick and rachel get so brazen and delusional, they just drive up to the home of audrina patridge, looking to hang out. >> and we just rang her doorbell. originally, we were just gonna be like, "do you wanna smoke a bowl?" >> reporter: smoke a bowl, marijuana. >> yeah. >> reporter: but when no one answers, prugo says, they snapped back into burglars. >> and we found out no one was home, so rachel's like, "oh, my god." you know, "this is perfect." >> reporter: you find out she's not home.
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and now you decide, "so let's rob them. let's go into the house." >> well, yeah. >> reporter: police say the group was part-fan, part-felon, and completely reckless. between october 2008 and august 2009, the bling ring stole more than $3 million in jewelry and high-end designer brands. >> when you consider the surveillance, the almost myopic kind of attention that they gave to this, this life of theirs, it's difficult -- just at the end of the day, how creepy it is. >> reporter: but police say the bling ring felt they were way cool and started bragging about their treasure at parties and to each other. >> hi, nicky. i'm recording you. yeah. >> you're gonna send it to tmz? >> yeah, i am. >> reporter: nick says that's alexis neiers' voice on the other end of the camera. >> the secret life of the teenage boy getting ready for bed after a lucky late night with courtney ames. >> hot bitch. >> that's where the craziness went down. >> reporter: he says alexis is actually bragging about a
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burglary they committed that night with rachel lee and courtney ames. and then, there are these photos of nick, alexis and tess adler. look closely. the jimmy choo purse on tess's arm, nick says, belongs to actress rachel bilson. but adler would later say she didn't know she was in possession of stolen property. >> alexis neiers told me that, i'll never forget this line, she said, it all started in sixth grade when all the little girls in her sixth grade started to have louis vuitton backpacks, and she couldn't afford one. her family couldn't afford one. >> reporter: here's one of rachel lee. nick says the "r" on the necklace stands for rachel, but belongs to rachel bilson. and the blue rolex she's flaunting in this photo, nick says, it belongs to lindsay lohan. >> there are a lot of things about it that suggest addiction, addiction to stealing, obsession, desperation. there's a desperate quality to it. >> reporter: the photos that you took would also go online, right? >> well, yeah, because --
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if a girl thinks she looks good in a photo, she's gonna put it online, you know? >> reporter: police say over time, they expand their operation. finding a way to sell what they ajar, aka, johnny dangerous. courtney ames' boyfriend at the time. >> and she's like, "i know this guy, you know, he has a way of getting rid of things and selling things." >> reporter: he's a fence? >> yeah. exactly. and so naturally, she told them what we were doing. and they said they could help and get us money in exchange for the goods, which, you know, then it started, you know, getting, like, really serious. >> reporter: nick says the bling ring was about to learn what the criminal world is really like. and they upped the stakes to, in terms of what would happen if word got out, right? >> yeah. and it's like, you know, if you ever say a word, you're, you know. >> this time, they will be the targets. >> reporter: scary for a mom -- >> it's very scary. >> reporter: -- to see their little boy in such an adult situation? >> mm-hmm. >> reporter: you blame yourself?
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>> announcer: we continue with "20/20 saturday," vice, hollywood style. >> reporter: police say the bling ring had been on a run, burglarizing the homes of their favorite celebrities, wearing their clothing and partying with their cash.
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but now, they were about to get their own 15 minutes of fame the hard way when local news shows surveillance video of a break-in at audrina patridge's house, nick prugo gets the shock of his life. >> when the first video came out of audrina patridge's house, that's so scary. so scary. i mean, it was on ktla. it was on all the news stations, this video. and they're running me and rachel and you're watching yourself on tv, like, someone's gonna recognize you. oh, my god. >> reporter: you're scared. but not scared enough to stop. >> well, we were scared. and we stopped for like a month, two months, and then, rachel is like, "well, it's fine. someone would have caught us. you know, someone would have said something." and then eventually, the opinion is, you know, keep doing this. and we kept doing it. >> reporter: it's hard to grasp that, because it seems like there were so many layers of dumb here. what did you think would happen? >> i thought there'd be deniability. i mean, rachel, you know, always would like reassure it, like, "oh, there's no evidence." there's no -- you know, no one can prove anything.
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>> reporter: and that would be a bad assumption. a second surveillance video surfaces and catches the attention of police. >> and that was when i knew we were done. >> reporter: why? >> because the videos. it's so obvious that these crimes are the same. >> it was quite evident that at least two of the people in the lohan video we had seen before. and a couple of us had recalled where we had seen it, and it was the patridge video. and that was our first indication that hey, you know, something's going on here. >> reporter: the hunter was now the hunted. investigators begin going to the same internet sites nick prugo has logged onto so many times. >> it allowed us early on to kind of create that kind of flowchart of, you know, who's this person. they clearly -- they know each other because they friended each other. >> reporter: so the same way that they used it to kind of find out information from people, you used it the same way. >> clearly, the police are gonna have the same technology. she, accompanying mr. prugo in a car and -- >> reporter: goodkin says
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slowly the pieces of the lapd's case would come together, helped greatly by prugo and lee bragging about their capers at parties. >> the fact that they bragged about it constantly. the fact that they just didn't know when to give it up. they didn't have that discipline. you know, "this has been a good run. let's kind of calm down." >> reporter: in fact, nick claims rachel lee kept the key to paris hilton's home, which they allegedly hit many times, on her key chain as if it were a trophy to show off to friends. the absence of shame, where was the shame? >> i guess it really wasn't there. i mean, you would, you know, occasionally think, you know -- when you stop this, we're gonna get caught. >> reporter: and that's exactly what happens. >> they took him out. handcuffs. they took me out and you know, searched me and stuff. and i was sitting, standing outside in my bathrobe, you know, and everything, and it's just like, it was terrifying. >> reporter: prugo is arrested and initially denies any wrongdoing. >> how does mr. prugo plea? >> he'll plead not guilty.
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>> reporter: but eventually starts talking and overwhelms police -- >> -- lucky late night -- >> -- with courtney ames -- >> reporter: -- with a tale they never expected. have you ever heard of anything like this before? >> i think it's completely unprecedented in the history of hollywood. and they, they had plans to rob a lot of other people, too. >> reporter: long list. >> they had a list. zac efron and vanessa hudgens and miley cyrus and a whole bunch of other ones. they weren't stopping. they had showed no signs of stopping. >> reporter: prugo also advises police he's in possession of property taken from audrina patridge, lindsay lohan and rachel bilson, and tells police where they can find it. where did you put the stuff to hide it? >> i hid it in a -- it's like a little kind of garage house. and my grandma, she's really old, she doesn't really -- you know, she wouldn't really notice. and i knew i could just stash it there. >> reporter: didn't you think not to bring grandma into this, you know, like give it to -- >> well, i didn't -- i wasn't even thinking. >> reporter: he seemed to be thinking though when it came time to help his case with the
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cops by naming names. at the top of his list, his best friend, rachel lee, whom he says is the mastermind behind the bling ring. >> i'm not, you know, saying -- i wasn't, had a part of it, because i did make decision to go. but, you know, was this girl that, like, i was like infatuated with almost and i just, like, followed her everywhere. you know, i wanted to keep her in my life. >> reporter: though prugo says he knows he's doing the right thing now, he is pained to lose the friend he says he was obsessed with. does it bother you that you haven't been able to talk to rachel? >> it's just weird, you know, because after being, like, a friend like that, like so close to somebody, it's like, how can you not -- i don't know if she feels this way. it's just my opinion. >> reporter: lee and her attorney refused our request for an interview. but lee recently told one of our producers in court she has no regrets. most revealing may be lee's reported reaction when arrested. >> she supposedly is told by officers something about lindsay lohan and she's very upset about this.
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rachel lee stops and says -- "what did lindsay say?" as if it was good dish to hear. >> as if it was some kind of validation also. as if it was some kind of validation of her as a person, that lindsay lohan actually noticed me. even if it meant that she noticed that i robbed her. you know, it's a kind of desperate need for attention from someone famous. >> reporter: six suspects are charged with at least one of the ten celebrity burglaries. including this man, jonnie ajar. >> hey, johnny, man, how did you meet these kids? >> reporter: he's charged with drug and weapons possession. nick prugo is charged with seven counts of residential burglary. each count carries a sentence of two to six years. now the fact that all the main suspects were in their teens and living at home raises questions of parenting for police. >> as a parent, i would think that if my kid, who doesn't
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work, and his closets are full of designer label clothing that i didn't buy him, where did all this stuff come from? >> reporter: you're the parent. where were you guys? >> right there under his nose. it's like -- we should've -- we should've picked up on the signs. we should've done something, you know. i don't know what to say to that. i just don't know what to say. they just -- there was a story behind it, you know? and you wanna believe your kid. so -- >> reporter: what would you be told? >> well, most of time, it was, "oh, it belongs to so and so." and -- and it's just over here. you just wanna believe the stories. you wanna believe your kid. >> reporter: why? why do you wanna believe the child? because you could say, "well, i actually don't wanna believe him. i wanna be suspicious, because kids are always on the make." >> i guess that's, where part of the blame comes where i do feel it's hard for me because -- >> reporter: you blame yourself? >> sorry. >> reporter: but for all the crimes they may have committed, prugo says, the so-called "bling
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ring" did not see themselves as common criminals, and others would agree. could the lesson be, here in hollywood, crime does pay? >> it's just so striking to me that the kids immediately know that this is not only a turning point in their life for the bad but potentially could mean money and opportunities. >> reporter: next on "20/20." [ male announcer ] summer means unlimited sunshine. and an unlimited phone. right now when you switch your number to sprint, you can save $100 on any phone. which makes the new htc one just $99.99. don't miss out on this hot deal. unlimit your summer fun with truly unlimited data and 4g lte. or ask about our other options, including no-contract plans. soak up everything summer has to offer. switch to sprint. trouble hearing on the phone? visit visit your sprint store or today. with mccafé. every irresistible smoothie and delectable frappé
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>> announcer: "20/20 saturday" continues with hollywood vice. >> reporter: police say the bling ring had been brought down
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after a year-long crime spree. >> he'll plead not guilty. >> not guilty, your honor. >> not guilty. >> reporter: but they certainly were not humbled. >> i'm really looking forward to my day in court and to getting all of this cleared up. >> reporter: only in hollywood. the teens with an obsession for celebrity who allegedly ripped off the homes of the rich and famous were now the focus of media attention themselves. >> i really don't have anything to say. i'm innocent. >> reporter: rumors of screenplays and reality series abound. one suspect, alexis neiers, already has a reality show called "pretty wild." >> there were a million paparazzi everywhere, photographing us and videotaping the whole thing. we're here waiting. >> alexis is on the phone. >> reporter: the lapd police report alleges alexis neiers helped commit the burglary at orlando bloom's home. >> she stated that they gained access to the property grounds through a defect created by ms. lee in a chain link fence.
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>> reporter: and police say they recovered property from rachel bilson and lindsay lohan after a search of alexis's sister gabby's bedroom. >> it was the most terrible experience that's ever happened to any of us. >> reporter: neiers' sister gabby and tess adler are questioned by police, but not charged. when alexis is arrested and booked, her reality tv crew is in tow. how was it inside? >> this is terrible. >> it is not good. >> this is terrible. >> this way, lexie. this way. >> it's just so striking to me that the kids immediately know that this is not only a turning point in their life for the bad but potentially could mean money and opportunities. and look at alexis neiers. >> what about your future? >> mom, get in. get in the car. >> alexis was talking at a certain point and all these celebrities, starlets, like lindsay lohan and paris hilton started to get into car crashes and have duis and get into all this trouble -- that it's cool to have these wonderful clothes and be a celebrity, but also to have duis and to, you know, get into
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trouble and be in scrapes with the law. >> reporter: criminal chic. >> criminal chic. >> a single marc jacobs purse -- >> reporter: but to law enforcement, the reward for their efforts should be time behind bars. >> i mean, you have defendants that even after being arrested show up in court wearing stolen property. you have defendants that when we arrested them and booked them, you look at some of these mug shots, they're wearing clothing that they stole from these celebrities. >> reporter: now what do you attribute that to? >> i don't know. i don't know if it's, "well, it's mine now." you know, "possession is nine-tenths of the law." so, you know, "hey, i did the work to steal it so it's mine now." >> reporter: did it occur to you guys that you were thieves, you were burglars? that's what you were. >> yeah, but rachel almost made it sound like it a robin hood story versus like a burglar. i'm sure it's not like -- little 18-year-old kids. >> reporter: but who were you helping? right, robin hood took from the rich to give to the poor. >> ourselves. >> reporter: the fate of the so-called "bling ring" could
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hinge on the answer to this question, troubled teens or wanton criminals? do you think that the system is gonna look at this group of defendants with a different lens? >> well, clearly many more lenses. i mean, you know, we -- >> that was good. >> -- we think about where we are right now. they're burglars. that's it. there's nothing sexy about it. >> reporter: these days, a dressed-down nick prugo is hanging with a new group of friends as he awaits his future. do you think you'll be able to get the label of thief off of you? >> in time. i mean, this is gonna stick. and i'm, you know, i accept that. i'm ready for people to judge me and, you know, i never thought it would escalate into something that, you know, affected so many people and was so serious and, you know, no, never. >> reporter: this could be a whole slice of your life that you wind up spending on the inside? what does that mean to you? >> i just ruined my life. >> reporter: how often do you think about it? >> every day.
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every day. >> nick was released from jail this past april after serving one year. rachel, so-called mastermind was released in march for good behavior. the others all eventually pled no contest, served various sentences and are now out of jail as well. we'll be right back. >> announcer: coming up -- an innocent friendship, was this struggling actress betrayed by a so-called bff with so-called connections? >> why do you think the heiress of the samsung fortune would be hanging out with you? what did you think was in the suitcases? >> i knew we weren't selling girl scout cookies. >> announcer: next. ♪ ula ula,g ♪ ♪ ula ula ula ula al revés, ♪ hago que lo imposible sea posible, ♪ ♪ que todo lo increíble se vuelva visible, ♪ ♪ tres, dos, hola, ula... ♪ aplaudan en la luna. ♪ ula ula, hagamos ula ula, ♪ ula ula ula ula al revés,
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>> the characters you just saw in "the bling ring" told their frepsd about the stealing, they couldn't stop talking about it, one of the things that led to their arrest. but how well do most of us really know our friends? or do we just know what they want us to know? and they want us to ignore everything else. here is another story of hollywood vice with elizabeth vargas. >> reporter: hollywood, the glitz, the glamour, where stars are born every day. >> grew up watching the actors on "friends," and i wanted to do what they were doing. >> reporter: fresh out of high school, meili cady, yes, that's
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her, a brunette then, wanted it, badly. she left her small town of bremerton, washington, with little money and big dreams. >> you know, there's a cycle of just spending a lot of money on acting classes. there's head shots. it's difficult. it adds up. >> reporter: how quickly did you burn through what little money you brought here? >> probably six months. >> reporter: wow. and you were lonely? >> i was. >> reporter: forget ross and rachel, meili needed real friends. someone in her acting class introduced her to this girl, lisette lee, who seemed to have it all. so, what did she tell you about herself? >> she told me that she was the samsung heiress. >> reporter: and did she appear to have the wealth and trappings of the heiress to the samsung fortune? >> she looks the part. she acts the part. she always seemed to have a lot of money. she had a mercedes. she drove bentleys. >> reporter: she ran with the crowd befitting an heiress. >> she said that she went to school with paris hilton and kim kardashian.
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and she said that she dated leonardo dicaprio and channing tatum. >> reporter: she's got good taste. and that's not all. >> she was an asian pop star. >> reporter: asian pop star? >> yeah. >> reporter: songs on the radio and -- >> yeah. she said she had number one songs in korea. >> reporter: why do you think the heiress to the samsung fortune would be hanging out with you? >> she said she was looking for someone who wasn't jaded by the town. >> reporter: and naive. >> yeah. >> reporter: but that naive newcomer and the sophisticated socialite hit it off. >> we sort of had our own private world. we would just hang out at her place and have drinks and stay up late and talk. she was someone that was one of the really bright spots in my life when not everything was always that great. >> reporter: meili did land some parts, bit parts. >> what's the weeps about, doll face? >> my life is a wreck. >> reporter: including this under-the-table classy cameo. but she was far from making it
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and was barely scraping by when she says lisette came to her with a job offer. >> she said, "i want to hire you as my executive personal assistant." she just said, "i'll pay you in cash, and you'll be working for your best friend, and congratulations, you pretty much just won the lottery." >> reporter: that jackpot job? fly with lisette on fancy private jets, moving heavy suitcases from los angeles to a seedy hotel room in columbus, ohio. but what was in the suitcases? and why columbus, ohio? meili didn't ask. she says that was part of the deal, no questions. it's difficult to understand why alarm bells didn't go off. >> i trusted her. we had four years of very close friendship. >> reporter: what did you think was in the suitcases? >> probably money. she said that her family was very involved in some casino business. to be honest, i knew we weren't selling girl scout cookies. >> reporter: if lugging mysterious suitcases was
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bizarre, meili's other task was downright shady, wiring money, a lot of it, $40,000, through meili's own personal bank account, all to pay for those lavish private jets. why would she ask you to put that money in your personal checking account? >> that was something that i was very uncomfortable about. she said, "you know what? your job is so easy, i don't know what you're complaining about. if you want, i would be more than happy to throw a stick down sunset boulevard and hit some other dumb broad who would do it for half the money." >> reporter: meili was in deep. she wanted a life in the fast lane, and now she had it. the money was intoxicating. but she was about to discover that she had made a deal with the devil in the city of angels. >> it smelled like pot on the plane. after we landed, i'd walked in on a conversation that she was having, and she said, "we need to do something about that smell. this is very dangerous, and we can't act like amateurs."
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>> reporter: meili, that once innocent, aspiring actress from washington state, was a drug trafficker. >> i know it might sound hard to believe, but i didn't have that conversation with lisette that would go something like, "when were you gonna tell me that we're smuggling drugs? this is illegal." >> reporter: so why didn't you say those things to lisette? >> i was very afraid. we were drug dealers, and we were dealing with other drug dealers. >> reporter: believe it or not, meili kept working, kept going on those drug runs. little did she know, her bff was about to land her a date with the dea. >> they were making these flights frequently. they always had a lot of baggage with them, but they always gave a different reason why they were flying to columbus, all inconsistent if it was just an innocent flight. >> reporter: june 14th, 2010, as meili and lisette flew across state lines, dea agents began preparing for their arrival. >> we were observing. once everyone was loaded up, our surveillance units moved in to stop them.
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>> i looked up and i saw 30 or so dea agents. and i looked to my right, and there was a machine gun aimed at my face. >> reporter: wow. >> they brought drug dogs out. >> reporter: the drug dog alerted to the presence of the odor of narcotics. at that point, we had reason and sufficient probable cause to search their vehicles. >> reporter: the jig was up. investigators discovered a jaw-dropping 500 pounds of marijuana. that's a lot of suitcases. over the next few months, law enforcement learned more, that all those trips, many involving meili, moved more than 7,000 pounds of marijuana worth more than $3 million. and meili says she finally realized her faux friend had also been playing a role the whole time. >> that is when things started to unravel. >> reporter: she'd been lying about everything. >> a lot of things. >> reporter: lisette's age, her relationships with stars, her private school background, that pop star career. meili says so much of what lisette told her over the last
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five years were lies. as for that samsung connection? the company denies any relation to lisette lee. did you feel gullible? >> i felt like an idiot. i mean, i was completely duped. she lied about everything. >> reporter: everything. >> everything. and i was looking at five to 40 years in prison. >> reporter: lisette and meili both pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana. lisette is serving a six-year sentence in a federal prison. but meili, who cooperated with authorities, only had to serve one month, followed by a year of house arrest. >> it's changed my life permanently. drug trafficker, convicted felon, former inmate. >> reporter: but as we've seen over and over and over, the mugshot can be the new headshot. the ankle bracelet, the newest
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hollywood accessory. meili even blogged about it on her website, and now, it's being turned into a book and paramount pictures is making it into a movie. maybe meili isn't so naive after all. >> i can't wait to see that one on the big screen. lisette lee is appealing her conviction and told us that meili is quote a calculating conviction and told us that meili is quote a calculating liar who knewscout ] hi kids. don't mind a harmless little ant like me. all right. i'm in. he's in! come on guys! [ male announcer ] when one ant finds food... it leaves an invisible trail for other ants. raid ant and roach kills on contact.
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