After eight years of theft, the courts have finally caught up with Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun, a woman who has stolen more than 165 jewelry items from Tiffany & Co. The shocking part is that for the past 22 years the thief has been working for the company, recently as the highly-paid vice president of product placement and design, and using her position to hide the disappearances of the jewelry.
It wasn’t until the luxury goods store laid off Lederhaas-Okun in February of 2013 that they learned of the thefts. In an attempt to cut costs, Tiffany & Co immersed themselves in a redundancy program and realized that Lederhaas-Okun’s position was echoed elsewhere in the company. In a bid to save the $360,000 salary they had been paying Lederhaas-Okun, they terminated her position, not realizing until later that they were also stopping a series of thefts that had gone on since 2006 and cost the company over $2.1 million.
Security is notoriously tight at the jewelry store, especially after movies such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Breakfast at Tiffany’s made it famous. Their location on 5th Avenue in Manhattan is also well-known to those who enjoy seeing the sparkling diamonds as well as gold and platinum jewelry in the store’s famous display cases.
Lederhaas-Okun was able to bypass such security measures by checking out jewelry for work-related reasons such as manufacturing cost estimations. She was then able to hide the fact that jewelry was missing through inventory paperwork write-offs. Some of the jewelry she took in her eight year stint as a thief before being jailed by Tiffany & Co was diamond-encrusted bracelets, rings, pendants and earrings. Once it was in her possession, Lederhaas-Okun sold the jewelry to a reseller for profit.
After discovering the coverup, Tiffany & Co eventually went to criminal court against Lederhaas-Okun, having her arrested in July. She was released on a $250,000 bond, but pled guilty on July 26.
Lederhaas-Okun’s lawyer claimed that depression over her work and marriage led to the thefts, meaning that psychiatric illness was the reason behind it. The defense attorney went on to say that her client did not need the money and often spent more money on friends and family than on herself. Lederhaas-Okun requested that the judge sentence her to six months, while prosecutors were recommending 37-46 months.
Judge Paul Gardephe, a federal judge in Manhattan, went for the middle ground in his sentencing, giving Lederhaas-Okun a year and a day in prison. In addition to the jail time, the jewel thief was fined 2.2 million dollars for restitution, as well as forfeiting the $2.1 million dollars she had received from selling the stolen jewelry.
Lederhaas-Okun’s husband Robert Okun has filed for divorce, and their $4.4 million house will be sold to pay the restitution. Okun claimed to have no knowledge of his wife’s activities and has requested that federal investigators return several jewelry items that he had personally bought for his wife.
The Tiffany & Co jewelry thief made a tearful apology in the courtroom before being jailed, saying that she couldn’t express the amount of remorse she felt for her crimes.
By Marisa Corley