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Former Tiffany executive charged in jewelry theft

A Tiffany & Co. store front sign is seen in Bethesda, Maryland November 29, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
A Tiffany & Co. store front sign is seen in Bethesda, Maryland November 29, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By Francesca Trianni

NEW YORK (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.

Tiffany, the fabled New York luxury jewelry store, confirmed it was the company cited in the federal criminal complaint filed against Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun, its former vice president of product development.

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 the criminal complaint.

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

Instead of returning the items to the store, 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.

Lederhaas-Okun sold them for some $1.3 million to a leading international buyer and reseller, falsely claiming they were her own, it said.

"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.

Lederhaas-Okun 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.

Lederhaas-Okun appeared on Tuesday before a U.S. Magistrate judge who allowed her to remain free on a $250,000 bond secured by $25,000 in cash or property.

Her next court appearance was scheduled for August 1.

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

Sabrina Shroff, an attorney who represented her at the court appearance, declined to comment.

(Reporting by Francesca Trianni; additional reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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