A real estate agent who is charged along with a second Beverly Hills man in connection with burglaries at the homes of singers Usher and Adam Lambert and other residences, including some in West Hollywood, pleaded not guilty Friday to 50 felony counts.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa Sullivan ordered Jason Emil Yaselli, 32, to remain jailed in lieu of $1.73 million bail while awaiting his next court appearance Oct. 3.
Yaselli and 33-year-old co-defendant Benjamin Eitan Ackerman — who pleaded not guilty Monday — are charged with 32 counts of money laundering, 12 counts of first-degree residential burglary, two counts each of first-degree residential burglary with a person present and identity theft and one count each of conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The charges allege crimes between December 2016 and August 2018 and include an allegation of taking more than $500,000 through fraud and embezzlement.
The criminal complaint alleges that Yaselli “allowed defendant Ackerman to use his credit card with the understanding that defendant Ackerman would pay down the principal and interest from the proceeds of the sale of the luxury items taken from 14 inhabited dwellings” and “encouraged” Ackerman to commit the burglaries.
The alleged victims included Usher, Lambert, reality TV personalities Paul and Dorit Kemsley and former professional football player Shaun Phillips.
In many instances, Yaselli and Ackerman identified the targets or committed the burglaries during open houses in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Brentwood and Hollywood Hills, according to Deputy District Attorney Stephen Morgan.
At a Jan. 2 news conference, Los Angeles police announced that more than 2,000 high-end items — including artwork, clothing, purses, jewelry, and fine wine — had been seized from a home and storage unit belonging to Ackerman.
“Ackerman would pose as either an interested buyer in purchasing the property or he would pose as a real estate broker wanting to show the property,” Los Angeles Police Capt. Cory Palka said at the news conference. “With the assistance of the LAPD’s Commercial Crimes Unit, Hollywood detectives were able to identify 13 separate burglary victims based on evidence recovered from the locker or storage unit and Ackerman’s residence. We believe there may be additional victims based on the large volume of stolen property that was recovered and are asking the public’s help in identifying additional victims, and most importantly, returning their property to them.”
LAPD Detective Jared Timmons estimated that the items are collectively worth “in the millions of dollars, multiple millions of dollars.”
Investigators determined that Ackerman — who has a criminal record — had signed into open houses on several occasions and asked in one instance about acquiring rare artwork, the detective said.
Ackerman — who allegedly went after “high-value targets” — showed up to the open houses while “dressed to the nines” and “acted the part” without being challenged to confirm his identity or where he was employed, according to the detective.
“He would tour open houses and he would come back later,” Timmons told reporters. “… This person is very sophisticated. In a lot of these cases, we see tampered surveillance videos. We’re still looking into that. As we said, open houses usually were the main source of that. However, we do have one case where he targeted a family friend, so nobody’s off the table.”
Ackerman was initially arrested last September by Los Angeles police, then arrested again on Aug. 16, one day after the criminal charges were filed. He was subsequently released on a $1.2 million bond pending his next court appearance Oct. 3, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to require the two men to stand trial.
Yaselli was arrested Wednesday by Los Angeles police and has been behind bars since then.
Yaselli and Ackerman could face up to 31 years and eight months in prison if they are convicted as charged, according to the District Attorney’s Office.