NEW YORK — Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun, former vice president of product development at Tiffany & Co., pled guilty in New York federal court on Friday to stealing more than $2.1 million worth of jewelry from the upscale jeweler.
Arrested on July 2 at her home in Darien, Conn., Lederhaas-Okun, 46, faces up to 46 months in prison after agreeing to plead guilty to one count of interstate transportation of stolen property. This offense normally carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Initially, she had also been charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail, but that charge was not mentioned in the plea agreement.
As part of her deal with authorities, the executive, who reportedly worked at Tiffany since 1991, agreed to forfeit $2.1 million and further agreed to restore $2.2 million.
“Diamonds are forever but stolen diamonds are not,” said Manhattan U.S. attorney Preet Bharara. “Over a period of years, Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun, an executive at a high-end jewelry company, looted her employer’s jewelry inventory and then resold millions of dollars’ worth of the merchandise in order to enrich herself. Today, she stands convicted for her thievery and faces the prospect of prison.”
From at least January 2011 until this February — when she was fired by Tiffany — Lederhaas-Okun had begun “checking out” more than 165 pieces jewelry with a retail value of more than $1.2 million. Her haul included numerous diamond bracelets, platinum or gold diamond drop and hoop earrings, platinum diamond rings and platinum and diamond pendants. She then sold some, if not all the jewelry, for $1.3 million to a “leading international buyer and reseller of jewelry with an office in midtown Manhattan,” according to court papers.
The reseller paid for the stolen merchandise either by paying Lederhaas-Okun herself, or her husband in transactions she set up, or a friend working on her behalf. Bharara referenced more than 75 checks written by the reseller, which ranged in value from $7,525 to $47,400, and totaled $1.3 million.
Tiffany became wise to Lederhaas-Okun’s scheme in November, following an internal inventory review. The exec had reported roughly $1.5 million worth of jewelry that she had checked out would have to be written off. But, according to court papers, Tiffany claimed that none of that inventory was ever returned, “contrary to the usual practice,” such as in the case of damaged jewelry, which would have had to be written off because it had been “rendered unusable in some way.”
To cover her tracks, she said she had only recently checked out the missing baubles in anticipation of “creating a PowerPoint presentation for her supervisor,” but that presentation could not be found.
She also claimed the jewelry could be found in an envelope in her office, but that, too, was never found.
Lederhaas-Okun’s crime came as a shock to many industry insiders, who had worked with the jewelry executive over the years.
Several sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, used words like “nice,” “preppy” and “pleasant” to describe the former Tiffany employee.
Lederhaas-Okun is scheduled to be sentenced in New York federal court by Judge Paul Gardephe on Dec. 10 at 2:30 p.m.