Pair charged in scheme to steal from celebrities during L.A. open houses

Musicians Usher and Adam Lambert and former NFL player Shaun Phillips were among the celebrity victims, the Los Angeles County DA said.

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By Phil Helsel

A Beverly Hills real estate agent and another man are accused of using Los Angeles-area open houses to steal from homeowners, including several celebrities.

Agent Jason Emil Yaselli, 32, and Benjamin Eitan Ackerman, 33, have been charged with 32 counts each of money laundering, 12 counts of first-degree residential burglary and more for alleged crimes between December 2016 and August 2018, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement Thursday.

Adam Lambert arrives at the Patron of the Artists Awards at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif.Jordan Strauss / Invision/AP file

Musicians Usher and Adam Lambert and former NFL player Shaun Phillips are among the celebrity victims, according to the district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors said that the case was filed for a warrant Aug. 15 and that Ackerman was arrested the next day, and Yaselli on Wednesday.

The pair are accused of taking more than $500,000 through fraud and embezzlement.

Ackerman, who was arraigned Aug. 19, pleaded not guilty, the district attorney’s office said. His attorney said he has been released from jail and is innocent of the charges, the Associated Press reported.

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Online court records do not list an attorney for Yaselli. He was being held in jail Thursday night in lieu of $1.73 million bail, according to jail officials.

Yaselli is scheduled to be arraigned Friday, the district attorney’s office said.

Prosecutors say that in many cases, the pair identified targets or committed the burglaries through open houses in the tony areas of Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Brentwood and Hollywood Hills.

Ackerman allegedly stole luxury items from 14 homes at the encouragement of Yaselli. He is accused of selling the stolen goods and using that money to make payments on Yaselli’s credit card, according to the district attorney’s office.

The Los Angeles Police Department announced in January that detectives had arrested Ackerman for what it said at the time was "a series of celebrity and high-end home burglaries."

The LAPD said he posed as a real estate agent and a home buyer weeks before the July 2018 burglary of a multi-million dollar home for sale, and stole jewelry, artwork, wine, clothing and handbags.

In September, detectives found more than 2,000 items at Ackerman's home and a storage unit, police said, and the department said he was in possession of items stolen from 13 victims.

Sometimes he claimed to work for an investment firm, which was false, police have said. "When he showed up, he was dressed to the nines," LAPD Det. Jared Timmons said in January. "He acted the part. He was very slick."

Usher and Lambert were among the victims in those incidents, police said earlier this year.

Ackerman's attorney, Gary Jay Kaufman, in a statement to Variety appeared to reference that arrest announced in January.

He accused the district attorney’s office of sensationalizing the case by mentioning Usher and Lambert as victims, which he said shows it is a "publicity driven prosecution."

"The People's case is no better today than it was a year ago," Kaufman said in the statement to Variety. "Unlike a fine wine, this case does not get better with age. Mr. Ackerman is not just presumed to be innocent, he is in fact innocent."