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Ex-Tiffany VP Accused of Jewelry Theft: Shiny Lessons for Lawyers

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on July 05, 2013 10:24 AM

A former executive of Tiffany & Co. was arrested for allegedly stealing $1.3 million worth of Tiffany's jewelry from the company.

The former vice president of Tiffany, Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun, 46, is accused of stealing 165 pieces of jewelry over the course of two years, including diamond bracelets, earrings, and pendants.

Lederhaas-Okun was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of interstate transportation of stolen property; if convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, reports CNN.

An internal heist never looks good for a company. Whether it's toner cartridges or diamonds, as in-house counsel it's important to make sure the company has a system in place to carefully monitor the "borrowing" of its products.

Here are some lessons to learn from the ex-Tiffany executive's case:

Lesson 1: Checking Out Company Property

Allegedly Lederhaas-Okun would allegedly check out the pieces, which is apparently a thing you can do if you work as an executive at Tiffany & Co.

The alleged plot was discovered after Lederhaas-Okun was terminated in February, which happened because the luxury jewelry brand was downsizing. The day after her termination, they conducted an inventory and discovered the missing pieces.

When it takes your company two years to discover 165 pieces of missing property (that has eye-catching sparkle, no less), you should know there is something wrong with your company's anti-fraud protocol.

Lesson 2: Unauthorized Sales to Competitors

After checking out the jewelry, she would then allegedly sell them to an international jewelry buyer and reseller.

According to the complaint, the jewelry store that Lederhaas-Okun sold the jewelry to is a leading international buyer and reseller of jewelry with an office in Midtown Manhattan.

More than 75 checks were made to Lederhaas-Okun and her husband, ranging from $7,525 to $47,400, the complaint said. It also states that an unnamed friend of Lederhaas-Okun assisted with the transactions.

"Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun took advantage of the access her employment afforded her to expensive jewelry," an FBI investigator said in a news release. "A privileged position in a prestigious company does not insulate a thief from arrest and prosecution."

An employee theft is difficult for all persons involved. There is a strong emotional component, especially in situations where the person perpetrating the theft is a trusted long-time employee.

There may also be a financial crisis, especially if there is insufficient insurance coverage and the employee has squandered the funds with no hope of restitution. For giant luxury brands like Tiffany's, there is the added distraction of corporate humiliation caused by the investigation of the theft and pursuing recovery.

However, as in-house counsel, you're the one who needs to assure the company by providing guidance on how to deal with -- and more importantly, prevent -- internal theft crises.

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