A tip came in that Stephanie Giesselbach was skipping town. She had broken the lease on her car, the utilities in her apartment had been shut off, and she had booked a one-way ticket on a flight to Germany that was scheduled for the following day. Once she got on that plane, it would be nearly impossible to extradite a German citizen.
The federal agents were on the clock: Find evidence that would allow them to obtain a warrant to arrest Stephanie Giesselbach before she took off.
Just a few days prior, the agents had burst into the Chicago headquarters of Alfred L. Wolff Inc. (ALW), a Hamburg, Germany-based import-export company. ALW is one of the world’s largest international suppliers of raw ingredients to food manufacturers. In the US, ALW was the single largest importer of honey. The agents, fully suited with weapons in case they needed to defend themselves, had seized documents, shipping records, and even honey samples.
Stephanie Giesselbach had arrived in the United States in 2006. After starting to work at ALW as a 19-year-old intern, she had moved up in the company ranks. Now, at only 28, she had been offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to transfer to ALW’s Chicago office to become the national sales manager for honey in the United States. Though she had to leave behind family and friends, it was a great assignment that would catapult her career. She arrived along with a 30-year-old colleague, Magnus von Buddenbrock.
Now, only 18 months later, she was a key suspect in what would turn out to be the largest food fraud case in American history. In the interim, Homeland Security had discovered that the company was illegally laundering honey. And though the arrows pointed to Giesselbach, before she could be arrested, the agents needed to find evidence that she had knowingly been involved.
They had only hours to find it.
And then they found something. It wasn’t precisely what they were looking for, but it would work for now.