Ex-Tiffany exec given year in prison for $2 million jewelry theft

NEW YORK Mon Dec 23, 2013 2:16pm EST

NEW YORK Dec 23 (Reuters) - A former Tiffany & Co executive was sentenced to a year in prison on Monday after admitting to stealing more than $2.1 million of jewelry from the New York luxury store.

Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun, a former vice president of product development, broke down in tears as she told a federal judge in Manhattan her regret for engaging in a years-long theft of merchandise from her longtime employer.

"I can't express my remorse enough," Lederhaas-Okun said.

Lederhaas-Okun, who lives in Darien, Connecticut, pleaded guilty on July 26 to one count of transporting stolen property in interstate commerce, less than a month after being arrested.

Prosecutors had pushed for Lederhaas-Okun to be sentenced for up to 46 months in prison for a crime that Tiffany in a court filing called "sad and disturbing."

U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan called the request "excessive." But he also rejected a request by Lederhaas-Okun's lawyer to impose just six months in prison, citing the "magnitude of the crime."

Gardephe sentenced her to a year and a day in prison, to be followed by one year of supervised release. The judge also ordered Lederhaas-Okun to forfeit more than $2.11 million to the government and pay $2.24 million in restitution, an amount sought by Tiffany.

By her own lawyer's account, Lederhaas-Okun engaged in the first of many thefts in 2005, taking a pendant from Tiffany, where she worked since 1991.

In the years that followed, Lederhaas-Okun would steal jewelry and sell it, pocketing the money for herself, prosecutors say. The government says the jewelry included bracelets, earrings and pendants made of diamonds, platinum and gold.

Prosecutors say she was able to engage in the theft undetected for so long because Lederhaas-Okun's position enabled her to take jewelry from the store and write it off inventory.

Tiffany said it only came to suspect something was wrong after terminating Lederhaas-Okun as part of a mass layoff in February.

At Monday's hearing, Gardephe said Lederhaas-Okun's motivation was "difficult to explain."

But the judge said he did not think greed was the driving factor. Lederhaas-Okun earned $360,000 a year at Tiffany from 2010 to 2012, he said.

She and her husband, who has since the arrest sought a divorce, reported income of $700,000 to $900,000 during those years, the judge said. Their house was valued at $4.4 million, he added. It is now up for sale to satisfy the court forfeiture.

In a court filing last week, Lederhaas-Okun's lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, argued instead the thefts stemmed from a "desperate effort" to compensate for the pain and depression of other life failures in her marriage and at work.

"For reasons that can only be explained by a psychiatric illness, Ingrid took huge risks with her life and her freedom each time she stole," Shroff wrote. "The risk did not pay off."

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