A longtime employee of a major Queens jewelry manufacturer stole a staggering 500 pounds of gold by smuggling it in her handbag over a nearly six-year period, prosecutors announced.

Teresa Tambunting, 50, of Scarsdale, N.Y., allegedly stole the shiny merchandise by concealing it in a false bottom she created in the lining of her pocketbook, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Wednesday.

"With gold trading at nearly $900 an ounce, the defendant is accused of establishing a virtual mining operation in Long Island City which siphoned off millions of dollars' worth of the precious metal from her employer," Brown said.

Officials at Jacmel Jewelry in Long Island City, where Tambunting had worked for 28 years, noticed they were missing up to $12 million worth of gold in January.

After an investigation was launched, Tambunting, who became a vault manager in 1991, arrived at Jacmel's offices with a suitcase containing 66 pounds of gold with an estimated value of $868,000. Tambunting allegedly told detectives that she had taken the gold, Brown said. A subsequent search of her home revealed 447 pounds of fine gold. The thefts allegedly occured between January 2004 and April 2009, Brown said.

Tambunting was released on $100,000 bail and ordered to return to court on May 19. She faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted on charges of first-degree larceny and first-degree criminal possession of stolen property.