Trust Us: A Tale of Two Heists

How do you steal $3 million? Gun, blowtorch, pyramid scheme? Denise Inaba and Rosemary Heinen were wilier than that—they got hired.

Then the two Bellevue women pulled off separate but near-equal record heists.

Heinen, 53, was first. A Starbucks manager, she created a fake company and billed Starbucks for its nonexistent services. From December 1999 through September 2000, using a pen, she held up her employer for $3.7 million. Starbucks issued her consulting company 48 checks ranging from $4,000 to $492,000. Heinen used the money to buy, among other things, 34 cars. She and her husband have since turned over all their property to the coffee company in a civil court surrender. Heinen faces King County criminal charges and an October trial on 48 counts of first-degree theft.

Prosecutors call it the biggest workplace heist in King County history.

But newcomer Inaba, 49, is right up there, maybe even ahead.

Hired in 1989 as the bookkeeper for Eastside produce exporter Jaspo Inc., she, too, wielded a pen to rake in at least $3.1 million, writing 1,200 checks from 1993 until September 2001. Like Heinen, she had a middleman—two companies, in fact—to which she funneled checks. She also issued Jaspo checks to herself. In February, she admitted to the actions in a civil lawsuit; she and her husband must pay back the $3.1 million. This week, King County prosecutors are deciding whether to charge Inaba with criminal theft as well. Bellevue police say Inaba's true take may be $4.6 million—that would top Heinen's record, though Heinen got in and out in much less time.

For both women, it was good while it lasted. Denise and Les Inaba enjoyed a $140,000 kitchen remodel at their $1.25 million Bellevue home, bought a new Acura SUV, threw a $22,000 party, took vacations, and paid off credit cards and tax obligations.

That was chip dip compared to Heinen's caviar.

Rosemary and Gerald Heinen owned a relatively modest, $300,000 Bellevue home. But inside, rooms and hall- ways were made nearly impassable by Rosemary's feverish shopping—three Steinway pianos, two big-screen TVs, eight bikes, five digital satellite systems, and countless items still in their boxes. They had three pleasure boats and 14 bank accounts. The 34 cars, most of them stored, included a 1914 Model T, 2001 Porche Turbo, Aston Martin DB7, Dodge Viper, BMW roadster, and three Corvettes.

Why did they do it? Heinen claims she has a sickness—an obsessive- compulsive disorder that caused her to shop without dropping. She fed the mania with brazen theft, averaging $450,000 a month, virtually guaranteeing she'd be caught. But the Heinens—Gerald has not been charged with a crime—also needed money. They declared personal bankruptcy in 1997.

Inaba is not commenting, still facing possible criminal charges. But greed and a better life can be considered motives.

How did they pull it off? Much too easily. Heinen simply signed a Starbucks supervisor's name to a consulting agreement, sent in phony invoices that she herself approved, then picked up the checks in person. Starbucks officials didn't know her "business" was not licensed in the state, had no offices, and that its phone number led to a voice mail box registered to Heinen. Eventually, a bean counter caught on.

It was even simpler for Inaba. At Jaspo, her duties were to prepare payrolls and monitor accounts. Only Jaspo's president signed checks. Nonetheless, she quietly drew up hundreds of them to her "businesses" (only one is registered with the state). Her discovery was almost accidental—the president finally had to look at the books while Inaba was on vacation.

Jaspo's lawsuit says the company "had no reason to question" Inaba's work. Starbucks said it was simi- larly unsuspicious about Heinen's performance. Playwright Tennessee Williams once had another take on that. "We have to distrust each other," he said. "It is our only defense against betrayal."

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