A Los Angeles man posed as a prospective home buyer or a “slick” real-estate agent to break into over a dozen Los Angeles homes—many belonging to celebrities—and steal millions of dollars’ worth of luxury goods, police announced Wednesday.
Benjamin Eitan Ackerman, 32, was arrested on the suspicion of theft after authorities discovered in September that he possessed thousands of expensive items, including jewelry, art, and fine wine, that had been reported stolen from 13 homes in the Hollywood Hills area in 2017 and 2018, Los Angeles police said in a press conference.
“His work was very sophisticated and in a lot of these cases, we saw tampered surveillance videos,” LAPD Det. Jared Timmons explained. “[Ackerman] seems to be fluent with computers and technology.”
To gain access to these posh pads, authorities said, Ackerman would pretend to be a prospective homeowner or a real-estate broker wanting to show the property. It’s unclear whether he acted alone, but Timmons said police are operating under the assumption that the Los Angeles native had a crew to help him carry out his alleged misdeeds.
“Ackerman targeted high-end celebrity homes that were for sale or were being shown during open-house appointments,” Cdr. Cory Palka, head of the LAPD Hollywood division said, adding that in one case he targeted a “family friend.”
Ackerman knew how to fit in easily at open houses, police said, and no one ever questioned his presence or demanded to see his real-estate license.
“People didn’t challenge him when he walked into their houses. When he showed up he was dressed to the nines,” Timmons said, explaining that Ackerman became a person of interest in the burglary case after police discovered his name on several sign-in sheets for open houses. “He was very slick.”
Some of Ackerman’s alleged victims include musicians Usher, Jason Derulo, and Adam Lambert, along with Real Housewives star Dorit Lemel and actress Rebecca Hutton, police said.
Derulo’s home was burglarized in September 2017. At the time, police said jewelry and $300,000 cash had been stolen. The alleged thief hit Usher’s home near the Sunset Strip in April, swiping about $800,000 worth of jewelry and cash, according to authorities.
Police said Wednesday that more than 2,000 items were recovered during a months-long investigation into the spate of Los Angeles burglaries, including clothes, jewelry, art, electronics, fine wine, sports memorabilia, and pricey purses. The items were found after authorities searched Ackerman’s home and a storage unit belonging to him in September.
“We estimate the total worth in the millions of dollars, multiple millions of dollars,” Timmons said.
Ackerman was arrested after the search, and eventually released on $1 million bond. The District Attorney’s Office told The Daily Beast that he has yet to be formally charged with a crime because the “investigation is ongoing.”
“We have diamond necklaces, we have to see what type of diamonds they are, whose they are and what the actual values are,” Timmons said, adding that authorities have created a website to help victims collect their belongings. “As you can see, we have high-end artwork, again those need to be appraised, see if they’ve been damaged by the suspect.”
Authorities said they’ve already tied Ackerman to burglaries in the Hollywood area, Beverly Hills, and west San Fernando Valley and are now working with other police agencies across Southern California and New York to see if he is connected to any other crimes.
“Ackerman is a Los Angeles native but does have ties to New York,” Timmons said. “He also has a prior criminal record.”
While the officer did not go into detail about Ackerman’s past, court records show that he was arrested in December 2013 in Los Angeles County on a misdemeanor charge.
Ackerman’s family did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. It was not clear if he has an attorney.
The arrest is just the latest in a string of celebrity-related burglaries reminiscent of the infamous “bling ring” that hit Calabasas, California, in 2008. In November, 10 accused gang members were slapped with several charges—including residential burglary, home invasion robbery, and first-degree residential robbery—for targeting the homes of Rihanna, former Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig, and Rams receiver Robert Wood.
Despite the close timeline, authorities do not believe Ackerman’s case is connected to that one.
“While the investigation is still ongoing, we do not believe there is a connection between Ackerman and the charges brought against the ten individuals last year,” Timmons said Wednesday.