Sometimes, those paperwork-intensive corporate rules about signing out and returning merchandise are actually good. So discovered Tiffany, as federal authorities recently moved in to arrest a former VP of product development on a charge that she stole more than $1.3 million worth of the chain's jewelry.
The essence of the charges is that between November 2012 and February 2013 Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun borrowed some 165 pieces of jewelry—including numerous diamond bracelets, platinum or gold diamond drop and hoop earrings, platinum diamond rings, and platinum and diamond pendants—and then sold it. The pieces were valued at less than $10,000 each so as to minimize suspicions. Tiffany policy was to count every piece of inventory with a value greater than $25,000. The federal indictment said that borrowing the jewelry, on its own, was not suspicious. "Her duties and responsibilities included ensuring that product designs could be manufactured and, to that end, she had authority to check out jewelry belonging to (Tiffany) for work-related reasons, such as to provide the jewelry to potential manufacturers to determine the cost of production," the federal complaint said.
Her role also gave her the authority to write off jewelry in cases such as it was damaged in transit. But Tiffany rules still required the damaged items to be returned. Where the case got messy was when she started offering reasons to Tiffany authorities why the pieces might be missing. She said some of the pieces had just arrived when she was laid off, but records contradicted that the merchandise had recently arrived. She also wrote to Tiffany managers that she had checked out the jewelry to prepare a presentation for her supervisor and that the draft of the slides was on her work computer. But a check of the computer showed no such slideshow, and her supervisor claimed no knowledge of such a presentation being prepared.
In a later email, the former VP said the checked-out jewelry was in a white envelope in the vicinity of her desk. No such envelope was found, the federal filing said. Really? Her argument was that she dropped $1.3 million in jewels—some 165 pieces—in a white envelope and just left it in unlocked in her office and left? What, as a tip for the cleaning crew?
This case raises quite a few retail procedural questions. Why were no questions raised sooner when the $1.3 million in jewelry weren't returned? Isn't there a fairly short time frame for such jewelry to be borrowed? Why did it wait for three months? Had she not been laid off—for unrelated reasons—in Febrary, how much longer would it gone on?
Another troubling question is, assuming the charges are correct, what was the VP's plan? It sounds like she had no clean excuse for why all of the jewelry had somehow disappeared. Given that she apparently sold it to a legitimate New York jewelry reseller, how could she not have expected those sales to eventually come to light? Tiffany's could simply have told the police that the jewelry was missing and all resellers would have been contacted with the exact item descriptions.
Something about this doesn't make sense. If an insider such a Tiffany's VP was going to engage in this big of a jewelry heist, wouldn't she likely have a better-thought plan for getting away with it? If not, what's the point?
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