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November 6, 2013

Jewel thief, 83, pleads not guilty in latest case

LOS ANGELES — Doris Payne, the 83-year-old woman with a decades-long history of jewel thievery, pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges stemming from her latest case.

Payne, whose capers stretched across the globe and inspired a documentary, pleaded not guilty to one count each of second-degree burglary and grand theft, Riverside County, Calif., district attorney’s spokesman John Hall said. A settlement conference was scheduled for Nov. 20 in Indio, he added.

Payne was arrested last week after she allegedly stole a $22,500 diamond-encrusted ring from a jewelry store on El Paseo, Palm Desert’s luxurious row of shops. Jeweler Raju Mehta told the Los Angeles Times he thought the well-dressed, articulate women fit right in with his customers when she walked in the store on Oct. 21.

She tried on necklaces and a ring, Mehta said, saying she had lost her jewelry and had a $42,000 insurance check to spend. When she left the store, workers discovered the ring was missing.

“She knows what she’s doing,” Mehta said. “I’ve been doing retail for a very long time and it’s never happened that someone stole right in front of me.”

Police say that Mehta was the latest in a long line of unsuspecting victims duped by Payne, who once described her profession in a court document as “jewel thief.” Her arrest record spans the United States, and authorities said she’s also stolen expensive diamonds in Paris; Milan, Italy; London; and Tokyo.

A byproduct of her unwavering devotion to thievery is a notoriety that now borders on fame. She has long been known to law enforcement, has been featured on TV, in newspapers and had her story told in a documentary. There has been talk of Halle Berry starring in a movie about her life.

Her most recent conviction came in 2011 for stealing a ring in San Diego and another in Santa Monica, Calif. She was released from prison this summer.

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