Lee now reluctantly admits that she never went to Harvard, or Buckley, or Montclair Prep, and that she was never on the cover of Vogue. But like all great liars, Lee insists she never really lied to anyone. If while cultivating her mystique she happened to omit certain truths, and the people around her happened to fill in the gaps with their own imaginative leaps, that was the fault of their own stupidity. She couldn't be bothered correcting such people, since they weren't worth the effort. "You have to understand that a lot of the pretenses that I give out to different people have a lot to do with how much value I give them," she says. And yes, fine, she may have told an occasional whopper, but that was to fend off people's intrusive curiosities. Lee says her proclivity to stretch the truth is due to "carelessness" – literally, she couldn't care less. She is simply too indifferent about others to be honest with them. Though branded a socialite, Lee has practically no friends.
"I never really got along well with girls, so I always liked boys better," she says, although boys don't rate too highly either: "I think of men kind of like a commodity." That Lee evaluates others strictly through the lens of their usefulness is key to understanding her otherwise senseless lies. Utterly self-absorbed, as narcissists are, and hollow of empathy, Lee seems to only know how to further her own needs. And her singular desire was to seal herself in an echo chamber of adoration. Her acolytes existed to further that vain fantasy; in all other respects, they were expendable. Just ask the trail of manipulated people whom Lee left in her wake, still trying to make sense of what happened – especially her co-conspirators, who all pleaded guilty and were given prison time.
"When you sit in this place and have all this time to think, it just... man," says David Garrett from prison, where he's serving 10 years. "I've come to find out that everything that's come out of her mouth was a lie." Frank Edwards, Young Ko and Chris Cash got one, three and four years, respectively. Henry Hernandez got nine months in prison followed by nine months in home detention; when he and Cady glimpsed each other in court, they collapsed, crying in each other's arms, with Hernandez whispering, "She fucked us up." Cady, who after a month in prison is spending a year under house arrest, is distraught over the notion that her friend turned out to be a cipher who lied about virtually everything. "From the definitions I've read of 'sociopath,'" Cady says, "her picture might as well be on Wikipedia."
Lee sees her own story through a different prism. Because in blending fantasy with reality to script her own narrative, she in many ways resembles any other Hollywood story. "People make themselves up to be whatever they want to be, especially in Los Angeles," Christian Navarro pointed out on the witness stand. "It's the city of dreams." In a place where everyone re-creates themselves anew – new names, new noses, new backstories – and little is expected to be authentic, Lee's reinvention isn't all that different from the rest. In her mind, she simply took her game of pretend a few steps farther.
The ride isn't over yet. In a recently filed 40-page motion asking that her sentence be vacated or reduced, Lee claims that, far from being a leader of a drug conspiracy, she was an unwilling victim. She says she was forced into the plot by Garrett, who she didn't realize was a drug dealer until it was too late; that he threatened her until she was afraid not to cooperate. The motion adds that Lee's delicate upbringing made her ill-equipped to handle Garrett, "as Lee is an Asian heiress."
Yes, an heiress – because Lee's not about to let someone else dictate her story. Despite Samsung's denial, Lee insists, her gaze drilling into mine, that internally the company not only acknowledges her lineage but gives her star treatment. (She doesn't explain why Samsung would say otherwise, although Cooper suggests it's to avoid bad publicity: "They can't admit to their little illegitimate heiress.") Similarly, Lee also contends that she did grow up in Bel Air, even though Master Lee reported to pretrial services that their longtime residence was actually a first-floor apartment on a busy Beverly Hills street – a claim supported by residential records. Lee would love to be more specific in clarifying that point, but needs to exercise discretion, owing to the "cloak and dagger" nature of her father's business, which she refuses to discuss.
The only truths that continue to matter to Lisette Lee are the ones she cultivates. She expects her prison sentence to be shortened by a judge any day now. When she's free again, she plans to follow her father into the casino business. She also plans to marry Navarro, to whom she's still "kind of" engaged, although their wedding plans have been "put on abeyance." (Navarro responds, "We're not together. We have no relationship other than I'm a very good friend and I wish her well.") Until then, Lee is making the best of her incarceration, where she ladles meals onto inmates' trays while wearing a hairnet – the first job she's ever had. She's trying to think of prison as a "low-end boarding school." Lee tells me she's having a great time. "A.M.s are spent with iced cappuccinos, walking the track and discussing politics. P.M.s are 'mocktail hour,'" she writes in an e-mail, assuring me that her new inmate friends are all A-listers. "I am utilizing this 'vacation' at the government resort as a learning experience, and polishing up my tennis and yoga. I'm truly loving it."
Editor's Note: Lisette Lee has responded to the publication of this story in the August 30, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone. Read her response, and Sabrina Rubin Erdely's reponse to Lee.
This story is from the August 30th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
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