Leave the furniture, take the diamond ring: Luxury brokers advise vigilance after fellow agent charged in open-house burglaries

Rodeo Realty’s Josh Flagg employs security and tells his clients to “put away anything that is worth more than $50K and smaller than the palm of your hand”

Aug.August 28, 2019 05:00 PM
Jason Yaselli and Usher (Credit: Getty Images and iStock)
Jason Yaselli and Usher (Credit: Getty Images and iStock)

To sell a property, the open house event is a time-honored tradition and stands as a critical component for brokers and potential homebuyers. But for homeowners in some of Los Angeles’ toniest neighborhoods, it has become an increasingly risky proposition.

“The concept of an open house is kind of strange. You’re letting strangers into a house,” Rodeo Realty luxury broker Josh Flagg said. “You don’t have to lock up the furniture, but I wouldn’t leave your diamond ring out.”

That advice comes after the L.A. County District Attorney last week charged a now-former Keller Williams agent for his alleged role in a string of celebrity burglaries at open house events in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and West Hollywood, among other wealthy enclaves.

Jason Yaselli and an accomplice allegedly made off with $500,000 in stolen luxury merchandise from high-profile names including Usher, Adam Lambert, “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” stars Paul and Dorit Kemsley, and former NFL player Shaun Phillips.

Last fall police charged four people in a series of similar burglaries to celebrity homes, and authorities say those culprits used social media and listing websites to track their victims’ whereabouts and locate the homes.

In those instances, the homes were empty.

This time around, police say Yaselli allegedly cased out some of the homes using his expertise and experience as a luxury agent. His accomplice, Benjamin Ackerman, then posed as a broker or potential buyer at open houses and made off with the valuables.

Yaselli and Ackerman’s scheme should serve as a “wakeup call” for both agents and homeowners to be more vigilant, said Douglas Elliman luxury agent Ernie Carswell.

“That’s not just for the general public, that’s also for when agents [are touring a property],” Carswell, whose office is in Beverly Hills. “It’s a call to arms for using common sense and good street smarts.”

Yaselli and Ackerman allegedly pulled off their thefts from late 2016 to mid-2018, authorities said. At 14 open houses over that period, they allegedly stole more than 2,000 items, including jewelry, wine and artwork.

Keller Williams’ Beverly Hills office did not respond to requests for comment, but Yaselli is no longer listed as an agent on its website. Yaselli and Ackerman both face up to 30 years in prison if convicted on the top counts.

Brokers interviewed for this story say their responsibility includes managing all aspects of the open house. That includes overseeing security and briefing owners to ensure they don’t leave valuables or other personal items in plain sight.

“I tell them to put away anything that is worth more than $50,000 and smaller than the palm of your hand,” Flagg said. “I also tell them to put away important medications, because you don’t want someone taking photos of your medication or stealing pills.”

Flagg said he always has two other people at each open house for added security measures. One person is on the first floor and another upstairs to safeguard the bedrooms. That deters most would-be thieves, but he did catch one person grabbing something from a closet at an open house in Beverly Hills Post Office.

He called the police and struck up a conversation with the would-be thief to keep until the police arrived.

“We have a sign-in sheet at the door and will hire security to be at the door,” he said. “But the truth is we don’t know who is coming in.”

Calswell agreed, saying he has escorted visitors from his open houses three times over his career for suspicious behavior.

“If agents are shy about that they probably shouldn’t be interacting with the public,” he said. “You got to have the strength to know something isn’t right and the state that clearly.”

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