Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun, a former vice president of product development at the New York headquarters of internationally known luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co., has accepted a plea agreement and pled guilty to charges that she stole over 65 individual pieces of jewelry from her former employer valued at more than $1.2 million.
In her executive position, the 46 year old Lederhaas-Okun held privileges that enabled her to check out jewelry from inventory in order to show pieces to buyers, manufacturers, and others for business purposes. Her position also enabled Lederhaas-Okun to “cancel” the cost of jewelry checked out from inventory if, for example, the jewelry was damaged and therefore unsaleable.
From January 2011 to February 2013, Lederhaas-Okun checked out various pieces of jewelry before canceling the inventory. However, instead of returning the canceled pieces to Tiffany & Co. to be destroyed, Lederhaas-Okun sold the pieces to a well-known Manhattan jewelry buyer and reseller, claiming the jewelry as her own.
The theft was discovered when Lederhaas-Okun’s position was eliminated due to downsizing in February 2013 and the missing jewelry was identified in a routine audit following her termination. When initially contacted by Tiffany & Co. regarding the discrepancy, Lederhaas-Okun claimed that the missing pieces were in an envelope at her desk in an attempt to conceal the crime.
One reason that Lederhaas-Okun was able to continually perpetuate theft may lay with Tiffany & Co.’s missing inventory investigation policies, which only call for an investigation if the piece of jewelry found to be missing is valued over $25,000. By checking out and cancelling pieces valued under that amount, Lederhaas-Okun was able to continue her practice without raising any red flags. Lederhaas-Okun’s executive position may also have been a factor.
Employee theft is a common problem, and even Lederhaas-Okun’s case is not entirely unique. The not-for-profit Southwest Research Institute recently discovered that former employee Thomas Moreno stole some $500,000 from the organization in a scheme to order unauthorized supplies, which were later resold on eBay. In another case, Karen Febles, a former executive assistant with Citibank, was sentenced earlier this month to over four years in prison for altering checks signed by a Saloman Brothers executive and withholding the difference for personal gain amounting to $1.3 million over a period of six years.
The techniques used to investigate and prosecute white collar crimes such as these are evolving. Many times, these crimes are prosecuted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as corporate or financial crimes, over which the agency has broad jurisdiction. The FBI is honing its ability to discover and prosecute white collar and financial crime in part through enhanced technologies, enabling the agency to report a rise in pending corporate fraud cases of over 25% between 2007 and 2011. Legal analysis firm Mondaq recently noted the rise in importance of e-mails in particular to prove intent, state of mind, and other burdens of proof for prosecutors.
In exchange for Lederhaas-Okun’s guilty plea, the US Attorney’s office agreed to drop the charges of wire fraud that had originally been pressed against her in the case, which could have carried a penalty of up to twenty years in prison. Lederhaas-Okun has also agreed to make restitution of over $2.2 million to Tiffany & Co.. Lederhaas-Okun will be sentenced on December 10, and faces up to ten years in prison on one count of interstate transportation of stolen property.