It started in May 2020.
Over the course of six months, somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 in jewelry went missing from America’s Auction Channel in St. Petersburg.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office began investigating after Reco Wallace, of St. Petersburg, conducted “exorbitant amounts of pawn transaction,” according to court documents. Among the items pawned were large amounts of unique jewelry.
An investigator observed Wallace driving a 2007 Chevrolet Impala registered to a woman named Monique Bigelow.
Bigelow, now 36, was an employee at America’s Auction Channel, according to court documents. In 2016 she was laid off but was rehired in the summer of 2018.
Investigators spoke with a manager who identified several pieces of jewelry that Wallace had pawned. The manager didn’t know Wallace and said he had not been given permission to pawn the items, which belonged to the shopping network. The same manager identified Bigelow as an employee who oversaw jewelry intake for the company.
The manager and the company’s head of procurement discovered that Bigelow had altered the amounts and values of jewelry during intake so she could remove items from the inventory without anyone noticing. Investigators said Bigelow didn’t have permission to take or pawn the items.
Both Bigelow and Wallace were booked at the Pinellas County Jail on Dec. 27. They each were arrested on a charge of scheme to defraud and are being held on $100,000 bonds.
The network’s founder and owner, Jeremiah Hartman, doesn’t remember why Bigelow was first laid off, but believes a department head may have let her go. It wasn’t for anything “atrocious,” he said. In 2018, she was rehired, Hartman said.
Hartman’s advice for other small business owners?
“Trust, but verify,” he said. Hartman said one employee lost his job because he had been falsely accused of stealing the jewelry that went missing.
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“When you have somebody that keeps pointing the finger at somebody else, look where the finger’s attached,” Hartman said.
Hartman said this wasn’t the first time that he’s dealt with employee issues in his more than 20 years of running the shopping network. While he now has 28 workers, the company used to employ some 250 people and dealt with challenges ranging from internal theft to espionage.
“You can have five or 10 bad employees that can really make it tough and bring down an organization,” he said.
In 2001, Hartman launched his network, initially auctioning jewelry. The shopping network would later go on to sell items ranging from fur coats to antiques to coins and even real estate. At one point, the show operated 24/7. Now, it focuses on coins, jewelry and real estate, according to its website. The show airs during various evening hours every day except Wednesday.
Hartman sold the bulk of his business to a billionaire couple in 2017. But within months, the network went bankrupt under their management, he said, and Hartman decided to sue. He reopened the network on a smaller scale in December 2017.