ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — A Rockford woman is charged with embezzling more than $139,000 from the spice company she worked for.
But it wasn’t cash she was allegedly taking, it was beans — vanilla beans.
“Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, second only to saffron,” said Brent Reame, CEO of 13-year-old companies Spice Jungle and Beanilla, which imports spices and then sells them to companies and individuals online.
Their work space smells amazing.
“We import and bring in vanilla in large quantities, hundreds or thousands of pounds at a time, typically packed in a 50-pound box, so it’s literally just a big cardboard box filled with vanilla beans,” said Reame
The company has been named one of metro Grand Rapids fasting growing companies three years in a row, according to INC Magazine.
But for several months, the owners noticed discrepancies between inventory and sales, so Reame installed an inexpensive camera in the warehouse.
“As soon as we installed that camera, within 12 hours we caught our thief and it explained everything,” said Reame, who was at home in January checking the surveillance video on his cellphone.
He saw a woman he knew to be a trusted employee come in the closed warehouse at 4 a.m. and walk out with a 50-pound box.
Two-year employee, 58-year-old Teresa Collins is charged with embezzlement. That’s usually a 20-year maximum felony, but her previous record of uttering and publishing in Kent County and two forgery charges out of Alaska means she could face a higher maximum sentence.
“She was a great employee, yeah, one that we never would have expected this to happen with. In fact, some of other employees came to me and said they looked to her as a mother-type figure,” her former boss said.
Police believe she was stealing 50-pound boxes of vanilla and selling them on eBay, netting a total of more than $139,000.
“I forgive her for it, I don’t hold a grudge against her or anything,” Reame said. “For the sake of our company and the 20 employees we have and their livelihoods, we obviously fighting hard to recover those funds.”
Collins is scheduled to be in Kent County Circuit Court on Thursday where the prosecution has offered her a plea agreement where she would plead guilty to embezzlement as charged and the enhancing penalties would be dismissed.
24 Hour News 8 contacted Collins, who directed questions to her attorney.
***CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated Teresa Collins had been with the company for five years, based on the owner’s account. He has since clarified she was an employee for two years. The above story has since been updated.***