BELLINGHAM - A former Ben Bridge jeweler must spend 90 days in jail and repay "a couple wheelbarrows full of money" after she gradually stole dozens of gold items from her employer, a Whatcom County judge ruled this week.
Sydney Nicole Hinkley's bills doubled when she kicked a boyfriend out of her apartment in 2011, according to charges filed in Whatcom County Superior Court. So in late fall of that year, she started taking jewelry - mostly plain gold items that could be melted down. Hinkley, 22, got away with it until mid-July, when her manager did a yearly inventory check.
Forty pieces of jewelry were gone. The manager suspected it was an inside job, because all of the stolen jewelry had been taken from under a counter that's accessible only to employees. And gold, at the time, had been surging in value.
Detectives ran the names of Ben Bridge employees through a database that records pawned jewelry. Hinkley, it turned out, had pawned matching items at four gold-buying businesses.
One piece of stolen jewelry, a 14-carat gold foxtail chain worth $600, didn't even leave Bellis Fair mall. Hinkley pawned it to Gold Buyers of America for $86.56.
Another piece, a 21-inch gold chain weighing 4.8 grams, sold for $105 at a Bellingham pawn shop. It had been worth $900.
Those were the only items recovered. By the time the manager caught on, everything else had been melted down.
Police interviewed Hinkley at work.
"Stuff is not stored very well," she told an investigator, so items often went missing.
Officers asked where all of the jewelry she had pawned came from. Her room, she said. She kept finding "random" jewelry in there, she said. And boyfriends sometimes gave her jewelry, she said.
When detective confronted her with the fact that the gold chains she pawned were identical to the missing property from work, Hinkley confessed. She thought she'd gotten more than $1,000. That's likely, because the original value of the jewelry was closer to $29,000.
At her court hearing Thursday, Aug. 29, she pleaded guilty to theft in the first degree. Hinkley admitted she let things got out of control.
"I made a huge mistake," she told Judge Ira Uhrig. "I'd rather appreciate the chance to get this over with, and start a better chapter."
Uhrig sentenced her to three months behind bars. She agreed to repay $28,500 - a number Uhrig called "a couple wheelbarrows full of money."
Hinkley had no felony history in Washington. She's eligible to serve the jail time on an in-custody work crew.