Former Tiffany executive arrested in connection with jewelry theft

NEW YORK, July 2 Tue Jul 2, 2013 4:31pm EDT

NEW YORK, July 2 (Reuters) - A woman who once worked as an executive at jeweler Tiffany & Co was arrested on Tuesday in connection with the theft of more than $1 million worth of jewelry from her former employer, authorities said.

Prosecutors and the jewelry company would not confirm that the jewels had been stolen from Tiffany & Co, the fabled New York luxury jewelry store.

Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun, 46, was taken into custody at her home in Darien, Connecticut, accused of wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement that accompanied a federal criminal complaint.

As an executive in product development, Lederhaas-Okun was allowed to take jewelry to potential manufacturers to determine the cost of production, Bharara said.

Typically the items would be returned to the store, but Lederhaas-Okun would report the jewelry missing or damaged, the complaint said. It said the items included bracelets, earrings and pendants made of diamonds, platinum and gold.

Bharara said that instead of returning the items, Lederhaas-Okun sold them for some $1.3 million to a leading international buyer and reseller, falsely claiming they were her own.

"As alleged, Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun went from a vice president at a high-end jewelry company to jewel thief," Bharara said in the statement.

The criminal complaint does not name Tiffany explicitly - only saying she worked at "one of the world's premier high-end jewelers (which is) headquartered in midtown Manhattan" where the items went missing. But Tiffany confirmed that Lederhaas-Okun was a former employee, and several of her online profiles show she held several positions there.

She left her job in a downsizing in February, when the jewelry company undertook an inventory to find she had checked out some 165 pieces of jewelry in four months that had not been returned, the complaint said.

The company conducts a daily inventory of items valued at more than $25,000, but each of the missing pieces was valued at less than $10,000, it said.

If convicted, she faces a maximum potential sentence of 30 years in prison.

Her attorney did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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