By Samantha Schaefer
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Some teens go to a house party with wild ideas about how the night might end — but going home with a snow leopard probably isn't one of them.
In a case that seems a cross between the Bling Ring celebrity burglars and another installment of "The Hangover," sheriff's officials arrested 16 people Wednesday in connection with a mansion party where guests walked off with medieval armor, scuba gear, Armani suits and — the piece de resistance — a mounted snow leopard worth $250,000.
More than 100 people were estimated to have attended the party, held at a vacant, fully furnished La Habra Heights mansion that had been put on the market by the owner.
The damage and thievery amount to at least $1 million, and Sheriff Lee Baca said the severity of the damage was so great that it ranked as one of the worst juvenile crimes he has seen.
The teens who attended the party were charged a fee to get in and, as the night wore on, a window to the home was pried open, a 16-foot window overlooking the pool grotto was smashed and some guests went into what authorities described as a "looting frenzy."
"I don't think they knew what they were doing. I don't think they knew what they had," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Arthur Scott.
As the home was being picked over, one of the few remaining possessions was the snow leopard, stuffed and serene. The youth suspected of snagging the leopard told detectives he grabbed it simply because "all the good stuff was gone," Scott said.
Told that it was worth more than $250,000, the teen asked, "How many zeros is that?" Scott said.
The teen suspected of making off with the designer suits, which were much too large for him, would have drowned in the mass of fabric had he tried to wear them, said Capt. Timothy Murakami.
"These were not items you could sell, they're so unique," Murakami said. "It's probably just another stuffed animal to them."
Those who were arrested appeared to be "kids of means," Baca said. The teens face a range of charges, from trespassing to grand theft, which carries a possible jail sentence
Some of the suspects essentially identified themselves by posting "selfies" with their loot to social media accounts to brag about their haul, officials said. The photos aided detectives' efforts to find the suspects.
The thieves "pretty well trashed" the home, Murakami said. The investigation is ongoing and officials said they are searching for still-missing property and additional suspects including the party's organizer. The homeowner was not identified.
Thirteen of the suspects are juveniles — three girls and 10 boys who range from 15 to 17 years old — and were not identified because of their ages. Three men, Kevin Larios and Andres Uribe, both of La Habra, and Nickolas Koontz, of La Habra Heights, were also arrested. All are 18.
Neighbors didn't report anything amiss at the time of the party, which took place during the afternoon of Nov. 23 and the early hours of Nov. 24.
The neighborhood is quiet and the home, which sits on a large property, isn't visible from the road, officials said. A groundskeeper or house-sitter reported the break-in but security cameras on the property had been turned off while real estate agents were showing the property, Scott said.
It isn't unheard of for large, vacant properties — often listed for sale online — to be used for pop-up parties, officials said, but Murakami could not recall it ever happening in La Habra Heights.
"This isn't just happening in La Habra Heights, it's happening all over the county," Baca said.
"The question is how are we going to pay back the owner for the loss?" Baca asked.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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