A group of 16 teenagers is accused of trashing and burglarizing a La Habra Heights mansion while the owner was away.
Detectives recovered stolen items including artwork, electronics, Versace suits and a mounted Snow Leopard valued at $250,000 during their investigation into the alleged illegal escapades, which took place overnight Nov. 23 and 24 in the 1700 block of Chota Drive, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said. The total damage and loss associated with the break-in and party is estimated to be more than $1 million.
“It was pretty well-thrashed,” Capt. Tim Murakami of the sheriff’s Industry Station said.
The home is listed for sale and the owner was out of the country when someone apparently noticed his absence and decided to host a party on the large property.
“They call it a ghost party or mansion party, where the suspects go online, look for properties that are high-end, for sale and appear to be abandoned,” the captain said.
“A suspect hosted the party, charged a fee and about 100-plus kids or so attended the party,” Murakami said. The illicit party began in the rear yard as a pool party, but quickly devolved into theft and vandalism.
“At some point during the party, somebody forced entry into the house, which caused kind of a frenzy, where a good amount of the kids went into the house and started stealing,” Murakami said. “And at some point in time, they started damaging property, too.”
The young man who first organized the party had not been arrested Wednesday, though officials said his identity was known to investigators.
“There’s still more property to recover. There’s still more people we’re looking for, Murakami said.
The young suspects aided in their own arrests through social media use, Capt. Tim Murakami of the sheriff’s Industry Station said.
Not only was the party publicized via social media, Murakami said, “They were actually bragging about the party (online), showing themselves within the residence, showing themselves carrying some of the stolen property.”
Detectives spent two weeks identifying everyone they could before heading out Wednesday morning, armed with arrest warrants and search warrants.
The three adult suspects arrested Wednesday were identified as Nicholas Koontz, 18, of La Habra Heights, Kevin Larios, 18, of La Habra and Andres Uribe, 18, of La Habra, sheriff’s department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said. They were booked on suspicion of charges including burglary, trespassing and grand theft.
The other teenage suspect were booked on suspicion of crimes ranging from simple trespassing to burglary, investigators added. They live in the Whittier and La Habra areas, officials added. Ten of the juvenile suspects were boys, while the other three were girls.
Sheriff Lee Baca said it was unsettling that so many young people, “felt that they could do whatever they wanted inside someone else’s home.”
“It begs the question of why,” Sheriff Lee Baca said. “Why can’t people have a good time, if they’re going to have one, and at the same time respect property.”
The matter of how the homeowner was to be compensated for the damage to his home would be determined by the courts, Baca said.
“I certainly believe these young people should be held accountable for what they’ve done,” Baca said. “They need to learn a lesson that you can’t do this sort of thing.”
Lt. Arthur Scott said the parents of the involved youths were distraught over the situation and cooperated with investigators.
“The parents were more than understanding,” he said. “They were embarrassed.”