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The Gangster Princess of Beverly Hills

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Cady and Lee became remarkably tight in a short time span, their friendship blossoming over their cocktail hours in Lee's condo. Lee was particular about setting the terms of their bonding. She insisted the two friends seal themselves away with no distractions – Cady's cellphone turned off and no music or TV playing; even the curtains were drawn. "I'm a vampire," Lee joked. Cady was flattered by Lee's jealous attention. In that safe space, they talked and laughed for hours, getting silly – Cady cracking jokes and doing impressions, Lee deadpanning quotes from her favorite movie, Scarface – and confiding every thought and feeling, including their affection for each other. "I love you so much. I'm so glad we're best friends," they drunkenly effused. Lee told Cady she wanted to someday be the godmother to Cady's children.

Looking back, Cady can't believe how easily Lee reeled her in – and how she fell for it. "We're so different that it makes us special," Lee told her. "We can understand each other in ways that other people can't. You're so nice and friendly, but I know you're smart," she added. "And people think I'm a bitch, but you know I'm a good person. And that's our bond." Cady beamed. She was grateful to have finally met someone genuine in L.A.

The persona Lee unleashed upon the wider world, however, was that of a contemptuous goddess primed for worship. Take the way, a few months before meeting Cady, Lee appeared on the set of the low-budget indie film The Doorman, in which she made a cameo as herself ("Lisette Lee, model-socialite"). Lee was pure spectacle from the moment she arrived, with a fur coat and Chanel purse draped over her arm, her enormous bodyguard Frankie Edwards by her side. The film crew was prepared to cater to a VIP – everyone was whispering Samsung – and treated her with deference as they filmed her visiting a Mercedes dealership, shopping along Rodeo Drive and dropping by her boyfriend's high-end wine shop. "She had this sense about her that she was spoiled and in charge," remembers director Wayne Price. Finally, they wrapped at a Holmby Hills mansion, and everyone packed to leave. Lee, however, was eyeing her fellow castmate, 35-year-old aspiring actor Scott Brian Cooper. "I'm staying," she instructed her bodyguard. "You can go home now." The crew scurried out. Lee and Cooper climbed into bed.

"She was a cocktease," says Cooper now; to his dismay, they never had sex. And yet for the next three years he was at her beck and call: "She's a person with tremendous control over other people. That's how she got her entertainment." Cooper was a party boy with a talent for glomming onto L.A.'s wealthier denizens, like oil scion Jason "Gummi Bear" Davis, in whose apartment Cooper lived off and on – and who, coincidentally, Lee said had been a schoolmate of hers at Montclair Prep, another school for the rich and famous she claimed to have attended. Lee flaunted her wealth, driving a fleet of cars including a purple Mercedes, two Bentleys and an Aston Martin. Over sushi dinners followed by coy games of Truth or Dare and cocaine, Lee told Cooper that she lived off of Samsung dividends, and promised him a job at the company someday.

But as much as men were drawn in by Lee's money and beauty, they were just as entranced by her demands for subservience. And no matter how outrageous her antics, Lee never failed to stun others into submission, as when Cooper introduced her to his friend, record producer Bradley Spalter, who'd worked with Aaron Neville and the boy band O-Town and was interested in recording her – after all, she'd said she was a Vogue model and a pop singer with hit singles in Asia. A handful of people were there to greet Lee as she strutted into Spalter's studio, her eyes hard as she scanned the group, homing on the biggest presence there: A black, six-foot-three, 400-pound aspiring rapper. She tossed him her keys.

"Nigger, park my car!" she ordered. The room froze, then exploded in laughter.

"This girl's a star!" exclaimed Spalter. Lee never even cracked a smile.

Lee made such a strong impression that it became easy to overlook certain inconsistencies. Like the fact that Jason Davis didn't recall her from Montclair Prep. "She said she went to school with me, but I never knew the girl," Davis says. However, he shrugged it off, explaining, "I don't start trouble." Her age was elusive, too. At 25, she passed herself off to most people – including her boyfriend – as 21. Three years later, she'd aged only a single year, telling everyone she was 22. There was also her occasional British accent, which Lee attributed to the influence of her "mum."

Her name was also shifty. Growing up in Beverly Hills, she'd first been called "Diana," after the Princess of Wales. But despite any regal aspirations, Diana Lee had failed to make an impression as much more than a smart underachiever. As a teen she'd rebranded herself as "Chantel" before deciding upon the mellifluous, pan-ethnic "Lee Locascio Lee." Yet Lee still took liberties. Sometimes she went by her modeling name, "Lisette Locascio." When she was photographed at charity benefits, she was "Lisette Lee Morita." For a time, she even carried a fake California driver's license (earning her a 2006 forgery conviction) with the name Lisette Morita, along with a ritzy Bel Air address on Bellagio Road.

"Morita, she said that was her dad's name," remembers Cady. "She said he was some kind of gangster." Lee had dropped that fact casually, using the same nonchalant tone as when Cady once opened the wrong drawer of Lee's hall table and was shocked to find a gun. "Well, what if someone breaks in? I have expensive stuff," Lee explained, adding, "Don't worry, I know how to use it." (Lee says the gun wasn't hers.) Although Lee's glamorous stories didn't add up, she spun them deftly enough that nobody seemed to catch on, especially Cady. All Cady could see was a young woman who had everything yet still complained of being terribly unhappy.

For one thing, Lee's love life was a mess. Her relationship with fiance Christian Navarro was crumbling. Although Navarro was successful, handsome and rich – "good for business," Lee told Cooper – the pair fought constantly. Navarro sensed their days were numbered. He'd later suggest to the court it was due to their near-two-decade age difference and her wealth. Though he never knew for sure, he figured that the allowance she got from her parents was "very substantial... a lot more than I make." He was convinced he'd never meet her material needs. Still, he was doing his best – like when she needed help with the down payment on her $200,000 white Bentley, he paid it for her.

Lee also complained to Cady about her demanding work life, attending Samsung meetings on behalf of her mom. She felt stifled, too, by her overprotective parents, who'd hired a bodyguard to keep her safe, and micromanaged her life; according to three of Lee's friends, calls were often intercepted by a male voice – the family "valet" – who'd inquire in a Continental accent, "Bellagio Estates, how may I help you?" Given how intrusive her folks were, Cady understood why Lee wasn't keen on introducing them. One day, though, Lee offered to show Cady her family's grand Bel Air home. "You can't come in, but I'll show you," Lee said, driving them deep into the hills in her Bentley nicknamed "Diablo" after a Biggie Smalls lyric. The girls stopped at the gates of a sprawling mansion. "Wave!" Lee sang out, saying there were cameras everywhere. Just then, her phone rang. Lee looked rattled, but answered calmly; afterward, she told Cady that it was her family's house manager demanding to know what she was doing and who was in the car.

While Lee seemed to resent her family's hawklike attention, she was also eager to drink up their love. The only times Lee seemed genuinely excited was when one parent or another would call and Lee would girlishly cry out, "Mummy!" But, in fact, she was harboring a heavy secret: A dysfunctional family narrative right out of some convoluted art-house film – or as Lee herself wryly called it, "the Asian Cirque du Soleil."

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