Friday, May 1, 2009

The Great Jewelry Heist

The New York Daily News reports on a woman who was arrested for stealing gold from her employer over a period of six years.

A Scarsdale mom was busted for stealing $12 million in gold from a posh Queens jewelry store by slipping it out piece-by-piece in her purse lining, prosecutors said.

For at least the past six years, Teresa Tambunting, a vault manager at Jacmel Jewelry, stole 500 pounds of fine gold jewelry and raw gold, which she hid in the suburban home she shared with her husband and three children, prosecutors said.

The weird thing is she didn't spend it to improve her lifestyle; she simply hoarded it secretly. Supposedly the family was unaware. Eventually, like all good things have a way of coming to an end, the auditors started asking questions about the inventory. Theresa started returning the loot.

"The first time, she returned one bag with eighty pounds of fine gold. Then, on another occasion (one week later) she came back with another bag," said Jacmel president Jack Rahmey.

The bags were so heavy she needed help from the garage employees to get it into the building, a law enforcement source said.

Tambunting claimed she needed to take the ill-gotten gold, the source said. She admitted slashing a hole into the lining of her handbag and slipping the jewelry inside, prosecutors said.

She is expected to argue through her lawyer that she has a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, the source said.

I don't suppose any of the law-and-order types or the personal-responsibility types could possibly recognize something as flaky as obsessive compulsive disorder being a mitigating factor in criminal activity. People who refuse to cut slack for substance addictions certainly wouldn't want to give her a break for this, would they?

What's your opinion? Do you think the fact that she accumulated the gold in her basement and kept it a secret is consistent with her OCD and kleptomania? Should those conditions be considered as mental illnesses in the legal system?

Should her attempts to return the gold be considered in her favor? Or is that too easy for a thief to give the stuff back only when discovery is imminent?

Please leave a comment.


  1. I knew her. I used to work there. This is incredible! Just unbelievable.

    In response to your question, at heart, I don't think this is a disorder. I think this is criminal.

  2. MikeB,

    Why is it that you try to make excuses for the criminals?

    Before their lawyers can even come up with a defense, before a psychologist can examine the criminal; you are there with a mental illness?

    Can you not accept that some people just do wrong?

    Next, where is the shared responsibility in this case?

    The criminal, repeatedly, chose to steal. To steal from someone who trusted her, who gave her employment....she chose to violate that trust repeatedly.

    It was a conscious who shares in the responsibility for her actions?

  3. If (and only if!) it is a legitimate mental disorder, I think that is properly considered a mitigating factor.

    Mitigation is not the same thing as saying she is not criminally culpable. Rather, in this case, it means showing a bit of mercy for the mentally ill.

    Assuming she's not bullshitting.

  4. Mitigating factor? Possibly, but mens rea still applies. OCD doesn't mean you're not responsible for your actions nor does it mean you didn't understand that what you did was wrong.

  5. I'm fairly obsessive-compulsive myself (mostly for counting and odd/even things), and I'd still consider myself responsible for my actions if I stole from people. I can make choices, and so could she. Choices have consequences. I'm not saying string the woman up, but choosing theft over therapy is something we as a society have decided there are consequences for. Her illness probably shouldn't have an effect on her prosecution, but it should most definitely have an effect on how the legal system tries to rehabilitate her (the whole incarceration system is badly broken, of course, but it should be plainly obvious that dropping a person with a good chance of rehabilitation into the general prison population isn't in society's best interest).

    Mind you, I _do_ think that returning the goods should be a mitigating factor, simply because it minimizes the damages to the victim.

  6. Now, Michael, you're sounding as soft on criminals as I often do. What better case could there be to illustrate that exact point you raised. Sending her to jail would serve nothing, unless we want to keep trying that old approach of being hard on criminals.

  7. MikeB,

    How do you get that it would serve nothing?

    It would teach people that regardless their compulsions, there are rules to be obeyed.

    It would also teach people that made up excuses don't matter; people still have to answer for their crimes.

    How would you feel if one of the mass murderers claimed OCD made him kill multiple numbers of people?

    Would you still say sending him/her to jail would serve no purpose?

  8. Mike, so you admit you're soft on criminals?

  9. I'm not soft on criminals unless you compare me to guys like Bob and Mike W.

    I agree that determining if someone is lying about whatever disorder they claim to have is important. If it seems legit, it needs to be taken into consideration in determining guilt and in rendering sentence.

    In this case, like Michael said, she gave the loot back which already takes care of the restitution part, so I'd say mental health treatment and probation would be appropriate.

  10. I've never claimed to be "tough on crime". ;)

    I think we need to enforce the laws better, but that our justice system also really falls down on rehabilitation. We should be doing a better job of assessing individual people's potential for rehabilitation, and intelligently proceeding with the methods that have the best chance of working for each class of criminal. In cases like this, that should probably be a small amount of "punishment", and a large amount of compassionate rehabilitation. In the case of career criminals, it should probably be heavy on "punishment", but followed by intensive efforts to help them become productive, peaceful citizens. In the case of repeat violent offenders or murderers, I'm largely prepared to lock them up for life to protect innocent people.

    But our current prison system? Sometimes it works, but too often it's just directionless malice. We see that brutalizing criminals doesn't work, and evidently decide that doing it harder will work better. It's a bit like abstinence education and gun control that way. ;)