Jewellery theft worth over $1.5m

TOM HAYS
Last updated 10:42 03/07/2013

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A former executive with Tiffany & Co. stole diamond and other jewellery from the company's Manhattan headquarters and resold it for more than US$1.3 million (NZ$1.6m), US authorities say.

Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun was arrested Tuesday at her home in Connecticut on charges of wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property.

She was later released on US$250,000 (NZ$300,000) bond at a brief appearance in federal court in Manhattan.

As vice president of product development, the 45-year-old Lederhaas-Okun had authority to ''check out'' jewellery from Tiffany to provide to potential manufacturers so they could calculate production costs.

Authorities alleged that after she left Tiffany in February, the company discovered she had checked out 164 items that were never returned.

According to a criminal complaint, the missing jewellery included ''numerous diamond bracelets in 18-carat gold; diamond drop and hoop earrings in platinum or 18-carat gold; diamond rings in platinum; rings with precious stones in 18-carat gold; and platinum and diamond pendants''.

Lederhaas-Okun claimed she had left some of the jewellery at Tiffany and that some had been lost or damaged, the complaint said.

But an investigation found that Lederhaas-Okun resold the goods to an unidentified international dealer for more than US$1.3 million, (NZ$1.6m) it said.

Bank records showed that since January 2011, the dealer wrote 75 cheques to her or her husband for amounts of up to US$47,400 (NZ$57,000), the complaint said.

Investigators also recovered purchase forms signed by Lederhaas-Okun that said the items were her personal property.

Authorities alleged Lederhaas-Okun purposely checked out items valued at under US$10,000 (NZ$12,500) apiece to avoid detection.

The company takes a daily inventory of all checked-out items worth more than US$25,000 (NZ$30,000).

If convicted, Lederhaas-Okun faces up to 20 years in prison. She and her attorney left a courtroom on Tuesday without speaking to reporters.

Tiffany representatives declined to comment.

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- AP

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