La-La Land

A Hollywood Salon Murder Plot

Nick Prugo robbed millions from celebs. Dawn DaLuise says he and a friend allegedly framed her for murder for hire of a rival salon owner and are now stalking her.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

In a time and town of everyday celebrities, where even children’s dance instructors, pawn shop employees, and pregnant teenagers have their own reality shows, 56-year-old Dawn DaLuise was Los Angeles’s most famous facialist. Her small West Hollywood shop catered to A-list clients who came mostly for the “galvanic facial,” DaLuise’s speciality that involved electrically stimulating her customer’s faces.

Over her 18 years in business, the blond Florida native built an impressive client roster that included Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alicia Silverstone, and Christina Ricci. But DaLuise, a former Frederick’s of Hollywood model, was also a kind of star herself—appearing in skin-care articles in beauty mags, and just as often in the tabloids, leaking sacred gossip revealed in the beautician’s chair or dishing on her stars’ peculiar regimens and diva moments. Bette Midler was a cheapskate who tried to bag free products, Jennifer Aniston was phobic about bikini hairs and demanded superfluous waxing, and a eyebrow-waxing tantrum from Nicki Minaj led to DaLuise spilling to Star Magazine about the time she met the rapper at her home: “Her eyes were dilated, her wig was falling off, her face was covered in red sores and she was perspiring heavily,” DaLuise dished.

If DaLuise was getting to be known less for her talent with taut skin and more for her loose lips, the threat of losing big-name clients was about to be the least of her worries. DaLuise spent the better part of 2014 in jail, on trial for an alleged plot to kill a rival salon owner with whom police said she had become obsessed. And though she was acquitted, she says the men who allegedly framed her—one a convicted criminal, the other both a convict and minor celebrity—continue to stalk and harass her.

Or do they? Like any good L.A. story, this tale may not be what it first seems.

In June 2013, the woman who spent most of her life perfecting the pores of the rich and famous found herself in a new role: managing the career of Nick Prugo, a sort-of celebrity, known for his role in the Bling Ring—a group of teenage thieves made famous in a Nancy Jo Sales book, and later a Sofia Coppola film, for burgling some $3 million in cash and goods from Paris Hilton and other celeb homes in Calabasas, California, in 2008.

DaLuise had been a source for Sales on previous stories, and it was through Sales that the facialist met Prugo. Sales told The Daily Beast that she was meeting DaLuise for a drink to thank her for help connecting with L.A. teens for an upcoming story. Later that night, Sales had scheduled a dinner with Prugo to give him a copy of her book, The Bling Ring, (and do some follow-up reporting. Though their drink date was over, when DaLuise learned that Sales was meeting Nick Prugo, Sales says the beautician stayed for supper, too.

“She and I both felt very maternal and very sorry for [Prugo],” DaLuise explained. “He’d just gotten out of jail and desperately wanted to get back on the right track. So we both decided, L.A. being what it is, there might be a reality show in this somewhere for this young kid.”

Sales disputes this account, saying she never set DaLuise up with Prugo, and denied having any talks with DaLuise about how Nick might reform. “I’m a reporter, not a social worker,” Sales said. “I certainly felt grateful to him for being a good source for my book, but it was never my intention to reform his life. That’s really up to him, and I never discussed that with Dawn.”

Regardless, the beautician and the now 23-year-old Prugo started working together. “I inadvertently fell into [managing Prugo’s career],” DaLuise explained. “Only in L.A. can you find hyphenates—you can be a hairstylist to the stars and be doing your client’s landscaping and have your products on TV.”

TMZ cameras were soon posting videos of the pair as DaLuise says she shopped him around at “heavy-hitting” meetings to a number of production companies; ultimately, she says, he was signed by Irwin Entertainment. “He was going to redeem himself by teaching the public how to better secure their homes so burglaries wouldn’t occur. It was going to be called High End Heist,” DaLuise says.

(A spokesman for Irwin Entertainment denied any deal with Prugo.)

In August 2013, Prugo began to bring a friend, Edward Feinstein, to DaLuise’s salon for treatments. Around the same time, Prugo’s relationship with DaLuise fell apart. Prugo couldn’t be reached for comment, but according to DaLuise, he was partying all night with Feinstein and either missing meetings or refusing to get out of bed unless there was champagne and money in the deal. “So I dropped him as a client and I also dropped him from getting skin-care services,” she said. Feinstein stayed on at the salon, and soon, DaLuise says, he told her that he had his own falling out with Prugo.

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Later that year, a competitor of sorts moved into DaLuise’s Santa Monica Boulevard business complex. Gabriel Suarez, 35, opened Smooth Cheeks, a salon mostly for men in the market for a thorough waxing. Soon after, DaLuise says, scary things started happening. First, her tires were slashed. Pranksters had hundreds of dollars worth of pizza and Subway sandwiches delivered to her door where annoyed delivery drivers demanded payment. Then, according to police reports, someone scattered across Santa Monica Boulevard crude “free sex” fliers with DaLuise’s name, address, and phone number along with her head photoshopped onto pornographic images. Similar fliers, including one featuring her daughters and the caption, “We love having incest with our mother,” were sent out in a blast to all of DaLuise’s email contacts. Soon, men were beating on DaLuise’s door in reply to a Craigslist ad that invited men to act out rape fantasies in her home.

As to the culprit, DaLuise says she could only think of one person who would be out to hurt her: Gabriel Suarez at Smooth Cheeks. Her client and friend Edward Feinstein even told her, she says, that he saw Gabriel slashing her tires. Six months of complaints to the North Hollywood Community Police Station didn’t stop the stalking, she says, but after a friend at church with Los Angeles County Sheriff connections received one of the lewd fliers, a real investigation began.

That investigation, led by Detective Steve McCauley, soon led to Feinstein, the client whose name Dawn provided as a witness to the alleged harassment. But when McCauley contacted Feinsten, the 32-year-old Californian with problem skin not only wouldn’t corroborate DaLuise’s story and said he never saw any tire slashing, he implicated the beautician in a much more serious crime: solicitation of murder. Feinstein told McCauley that the stalking had all been a ruse perpetrated by DaLuise herself to get her business rival kicked out of the building or arrested. Feinstein forwarded texts and emails as proof, one of which that read, “What time can you talk today? We need to firm up our story for the detective,” documents from a later court appearance show.

McCauley also found a few emails that showed DaLuise was actively looking to hire someone “to take Gabriel Suarez out,” according to the detective’s later testimony. DaLuise and her attorney argued at the time that she had just been venting to friends and she had clearly been joking about having him killed—one text even ended with “LOL.” On top of that, the former NFL player whom detectives say she contracted for the hit, Chris Geile, denied that she had ever asked him to kill anyone.

But based on the Feinstein texts, and little else it seems, DaLuise was arrested and brought to trial. During that trial, it came out that the evidence on which the case rested had actually been provided by DaLuise’s alleged stalker. Feinstein was arrested, and posted $150,000 bail, but the charges against DaLuise remained. DaLuise says she rejected plea deal after plea deal. At one of these bargaining meetings, DaLuise says Deputy District Attorney Wendy Segall brought out a seven-inch binder “on Prugo and Feinstein’s crimes.” The two men had allegedly been stalking about a dozen other women as well.

Segall is head of the DA’s stalking unit and has prosecuted cases involving the stalking of Jennifer Garner and Halle Berry. When asked about Prugo and Feinstein’s alleged stalking, Segall confirmed there was an investigation “under review,” but would not comment further on when or whether charges would be filed.

“The DA wanted me to come over to that case, but not as a victim—which of course I am. They wanted me to say that I had purchased a gun and that Prugo, Feinstein, and myself were going to kill this guy. I blew a gasket...I thought I was getting out that day and instead they wanted to give me immunity on my case and make me tell a bald-faced lie,” she said.

So, rejecting all pleas, from March 5, 2014 until January 22, DaLuise sat in jail, until after half an hour of deliberation, a jury acquitted her.

“So that seven-inch thick file is still sitting there, rotting, while these two run amok,” DaLuise said. “I can’t regain my livelihood, I can’t move forward, I’m still being victimized...and [the DA and the sheriff] are still not picking up any pieces of this shitstorm.”

In an attempt to pick up the pieces herself, DaLuise has filed restraining orders against the men as well as what she calls a “multi-, multi-, multimillion-dollar lawsuit” for false arrest and imprisonment, assault and battery, negligence, infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and civil-rights violations against Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, lead detective Steve McCauley, Captain Shaun Mathers, and Sergeant Steve Rohrbach. “My arresting officer knew throughout my trial I was innocent and ignored evidence,” she says.

As she waits for actual charges to be filed, DaLuise says she continues to be stalked. She most recently filed a complaint against Feinstein and Prugo for harassment on April 16 at the North Hollywood Police Station. The officer who took the report said, “Someone has a vendetta against her.” According to DaLuise, as she was “drowning her sorrows at a cantina, [Feinstein and Prugo] phoned my ex-husband eight times and delivered three pizzas to our doorstep that we didn't order.”

When asked to speculate on why Feinstein and Prugo would still supposedly be stalking her, DaLuise admits it sounds preposterous but said, “Edward Feinstein hates women, but also he really wants to be an older, successful, businesswoman. That’s all it comes down to, because of the commonalities between me and other women he’s targeted.”

Prugo’s attorney, Tamar Arminak, responded to the news of the restraining order by telling The Daily Beast, “Nick has not had contact with Dawn in well over a year, any which way—directly or through others. And he has no interest in having any further contact with Dawn and has not done any of the things she accuses him of in the restraining order.”

Because DaLuise says she can’t find Feinstein, he has not yet been served.

When contacted by The Daily Beast for comment, Feinstein said, “There is no truth to Dawn DaLuise’s claims and I’m more than confident that her true colors will be exposed shortly.”

In her civil complaint, DaLuise claims she was arrested without a proper investigation and “without checking Feinstein’s criminal background, when he had a long rap sheet.” That rap sheet includes fraud and grand theft, for which Feinstein served time (in the same Los Angeles prison as Prugo), and coincidentally, one victim who complained that Feinstein had sent her harassing emails in which he pretended to be her boss writing to tell her she had been fired.

Yet people close to DaLuise say she is no shrinking violet herself. When trying to confirm details for this article, several of the esthetician’s former friends and clients—only one of whom would go on record—said that they initially believed the murder-for-hire allegations against DaLuise, and that she could be strange, and downright scary when wronged.

Kennedy, a 40-year-old former DaLuise client and current neighbor of Feinstein, who asked that I not use her last name, is obviously biased toward Feinstein, but says that DaLuise is now stalking her. She claims the facialist relentlessly calls and texts her, looking for Feinstein. Texts provided to The Daily Beast show Kennedy telling DaLuise to leave her alone and threatening to go to the cops herself to complain that DaLuise is stalking her. The texts then show DaLuise apparently replying: “Nice try, FAGstein! You’re going to prison and I’m a major witness against you...Your goose is cooked you fat, whining faggot. lol.”

One longtime client, who wouldn’t go on the record, says that DaLuise was over-familiar and some of her confidences made her uncomfortable. “But the facials. The facials were just so good.”

Detective McCauley wouldn’t comment to The Daily Beast on the civil suit or the original investigation. He did appear on ABC News’ 20/20 last April where he sat alongside Sergeant Shaun Mathers, and laughed with reporter Chris Connelly about the absurdity of the case.

“Do you feel confident, at this point in your investigation, that you know who did what to whom?” Connelly asked. “No,” McCauley replied.