Baier in, Brown out at Whitehall Jewellers

A former top executive in Sears’ credit-card division was named president and chief operating officer of Whitehall Jewellers on Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Lucinda “Cindy” M. Baier must tackle Whitehall’s emergence from an accounting fraud scandal and its change in direction from a mass merchant to a luxury retailer. Baier will report to Hugh M. Patinkin, Whitehall Jewellers’ chairman and CEO.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Chicago-based retail jeweler said that Manny A. Brown executive vice president of Whitehall Jewellers, resigned, effective Dec. 17. And that Brown’s duties will be assumed on an interim basis by Baier.

As part of Whitehall’s agreement this fall to settle the federal fraud investigation, the Chicago-based retailer promised to hire a president and chief operating officer with “significant public company experience.”

Patinkin cited Baier’s “proven track record” in retail and said in a statement that she will play a significant role in developing and executing Whitehall’s long-term growth plans.

Baier left Sears in April, about six months after the Hoffman Estates-based retailer sold its $32 billion credit-card unit to Citigroup. Her last position at Sears was senior vice president and general manager of the credit and financial products division. She had reported to Sears Chief Financial Officer Glenn Richter, who will become CFO of the combined Sears and Kmart operation.

Baier also had previously worked for US Office Products and Arthur Andersen.

Whitehall Jewellers agreed in September to pay $15.1 million to resolve the federal investigation into accounting fraud at one of the company’s jewelry suppliers.

Whitehall, which operates 386 jewelry stores in 38 states, agreed to cooperate in the federal investigation of the alleged fraud and to pay $14.8 million in restitution to companies that were defrauded.

Former Whitehall Chief Financial Officer Jon Browne was one of three people to plead guilty to bank and wire fraud conspiracy charges for their role in the accounting fraud. Whitehall helped Cosmopolitan Gem overstate its accounts receivable by more than $20 million, according to Roslynn R. Mauskopf, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The stores operate in regional and superregional shopping malls under the names Whitehall Co. Jewellers, Lundstrom Jewelers, and Marks Bros. Jewelers.

Patinkin reportedly said in August that the company’s review of its real estate showed that “we have a niche we can go after” because many of the jewelry stores are in upscale and upper-moderate malls.

The retailer’s history in Chicago dates back 99 years, when the founding family opened a jewelry store on State Street.