THE FAKE HEIRESS OF BEV­ERLY HILLS and the girl she duped

How did a whole­some, small-town girl be­come an un­wit­ting pawn to a delu­sional crim­i­nal? HE­LEN ALEXAN­DER un­rav­els a tale of Hol­ly­wood dreams gone hor­ri­bly wrong…

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE -

‘PUT YOUR HANDS in the air and get out of the ve­hi­cle.’ The cry rang out across the de­serted Ohio run­way. But even as Lisette Lee stepped out to face a pha­lanx of armed o cers, she looked ev­ery inch the heiress. Fol­low­ing closely be­hind her was her friend and as­sis­tant, Meili Cady. The pair were cu ed, while a dog sni ed through their lug­gage. When the dog found its tar­get – 2 0kg of mar­i­juana smug­gled in from LA on the pri­vate jet still idling on the tar­mac be­hind them – the women were led to a po­lice car.

In 2009, the friend­ship took a new turn when Lisette hooked up with a street-level drug dealer called David Gar­rett. She told Meili that she needed her to ac­com­pany her on a pri­vate plane as her as­sis­tant. For Meili, the job and the money was a god­send. She would be paid $1 500 (about R18 000) a trip, said Lisette. Meili as­sumed the job was re­lated to Lisette’s fa­ther’s casino busi­ness. ‘I wasn’t do­ing it to buy a Mercedes,’ she says. ‘I just wanted to pay my phone bill.’

On her sec­ond smug­gling trip, af­ter glimps­ing cash in one of the suit­cases, Meili re­alised that the trips weren’t as in­no­cent as they seemed. But, she says, ‘I em­braced the feel­ing of be­ing part of some­thing dar­ing.’ On one trip, when she smelled mar­i­juana waft­ing through the pri­vate jet, Meili re­alised what they were smug­gling. Her hands shook as it dawned on her: ‘Oh God, I’m a drug tra cker.’

‘I saw no way of back­ing out. I didn’t imag­ine I’d have the team’s bless­ing if I’d tried to po­litely ex­cuse my­self from the op­er­a­tion and as­sure them their se­cret was safe.’ Be­sides, Lisette had talked of a hitman and Meili was scared to think about what her friend was ca­pa­ble of. ‘Be­fore I knew it, I was ly­ing to ev­ery per­son in my life,’ she says. Then their worlds fell apart.

The day be­fore the bust, Meili and Lisette blazed through a typ­i­cal night, snort­ing two grams of co­caine be­tween them. On the jet Meili felt nau­seous, but worse was to come. Agents at the air­port had a tip-o that some­body could be bring­ing in drugs. When they saw Lisette, Meili and two men strug­gling with 13 heavy suit­cases, the agents gured the women were ei­ther mod­els – or that they’d found their smug­glers. They swooped just as the con­voy was ap­proach­ing the air­port exit. Meili faced a pos­si­ble 40-year jail sen­tence, but with a skil­ful lawyer, 20 char­ac­ter ref­er­ences and a will­ing­ness to share all she knew, she was sen­tenced to one month in prison, a year of house ar­rest and three years’ pro­ba­tion. Her par­ents paid for the lawyer.

To­day, while still dev­as­tated about the hurt she caused her fam­ily, she feels she’s paid her dues. ‘It was a huge les­son in life that you have to be re­spon­si­ble for your own de­ci­sions,’ she says. ‘Lisette is very per­sua­sive. How­ever, she did not force me into any­thing. No one had a gun to my head.’ Lisette, mean­while, plea-bar­gained her sen­tence down to six years. Still in prison, she has dis­puted Meili’s ver­sion of events and in­sists that she was a vic­tim, too. David threat­ened her un­til she co-op­er­ated, she has claimed, adding that her up­bring­ing as an heiress did not equip her to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion.

In a state­ment to the press, Sam­sung in­sists Lisette ‘is not an heiress’ of the com­pany. Lisette was born out of wed­lock to Corine Lee, daugh­ter of the late Sam­sung founder. Lisette’s fa­ther is Yoshi Morita, a Ja­panese casino mogul. Lisette’s mother’s fam­ily dis­ap­proved of the union and sent her to live with fam­ily friends in Los An­ge­les. E ec­tively, she was ban­ished to a life of feck­less de­bauch­ery: her fam­ily had con­tin­ued to send her money.

As for Meili, she says that her life has taken a good turn. She wants to con­tinue writ­ing, has joined a new act­ing agency and is au­di­tion­ing again. She has not spo­ken to Lisette since they were ar­rested. And yet she still ad­mits to a hint of nos­tal­gia. ‘I dream Lisette and I are friends again,’ she says. ‘I think some dam­aged part of me misses her.’

Even then, Lisette re­fused to give up the lies and the pre­tence. ‘This is hu­mil­i­at­ing,’ she told be­mused o cers. ‘I don’t know what my fam­ily is go­ing to do when they nd out. You know Sam­sung That’s my fam­ily.’

That night, in June 2010, the two women – Meili, a real-es­tate agent’s daugh­ter, and Lisette, a charis­matic woman who de­scribed her­self as the ‘Korean Paris Hil­ton’ – were ar­rested for their part in a drugsmug­gling op­er­a­tion. To­day, Lisette re­mains in prison, while Meili has writ­ten a book about their story.

Meili’s story is as old as Hol­ly­wood: small-town girl moves to Tin­sel­town to make it big. A year later, she was broke. But mostly she was lonely: ‘I felt the ab­sence of any close friend­ships in my new city. I was at my most vul­ner­a­ble when I met Lisette.’

Lisette Lee was 24, but claimed to be older, when Meili met her through a friend in 2006. Lisette was, Meili re­calls, ‘one of the most charm­ing peo­ple I’ve ever met’. Lisette claimed that her mother was a mem­ber of the fam­ily that con­trols the Korean elec­tron­ics gi­ant Sam­sung, and that her Ja­panese fa­ther ran casi­nos. Meili was mes­merised and within weeks, their bond was set in con­crete. ‘We never stopped talk­ing. It was like a gir­lie child­hood sleep­over, only with a lot more vodka.’ And, even­tu­ally, co­caine, which Lisette in­sisted would help Meili lose weight. ‘I’d been a “good girl” my en­tire life and it had never got­ten me very far,’ says Meili. ‘It felt good to be a lit­tle bad for once.’

But Lisette’s be­hav­iour be­came more er­ratic: one day she’d treat Meili like a cher­ished best friend, the next she’d ig­nore calls and texts. ‘Look­ing back, I can see she was a so­ciopath,’ Meili says now. ‘But at the time I was cap­ti­vated by her.’

Lisette and Meili when

they were BFFs; Meili to­day, pos­ing

for self­ies; Lisette Lee af­ter

her ar­rest CLOCK­WISE FROM RIGHT

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