International jewel thief for 50 years, Doris Payne accused of stealing $22,000 jewel.
PALM DESERT, Calif. — An 83-year-old jewel thief, whose career has spanned 50 years and is the subject of a documentary and feature film speculation, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to accusations she stole a $22,000 diamond ring from a local jewelry store last month.
Payne was arraigned at Larson Justice Center in Indio on charges of burglary and grand theft, and a judge approved the prosecution's request to increase her bail from $45,000 to $65,000.
She could "theoretically" face a sentence of six years in prison, Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Anne-Marie Lofthouse said after the arraignment.
Payne is accused of lifting the ring from El Paseo Jewelers on Oct. 21.
Wearing a blue jail-issue jumpsuit with her gray hair combed back, Payne waited in the jury box with men who wore orange jumpsuits and appeared to be at least a third of her age. She spoke with her attorneys and could be seen motioning her hands and nodding her head up and down toward them during the conversation.
Payne, who has a Wikipedia page devoted to her "career," has a history of high-priced thefts. She's been tied to crimes in several states, including California, New York, Colorado and Nevada over the past 50 years. Others reportedly occurred in Greece, France, Britain and Switzerland.
Los Angeles filmmaker Eunetta Boone is co-producing a feature film about Payne's life with Palm Springs-based director Matthew Pond, who directed and produced the documentary "The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne." Actress Halle Berry is "loosely attached," she said.
On Oct. 21, employees at Saks Fifth Avenue on El Paseo spotted Payne in their store and sent out an alert to neighboring businesses warning them of her presence.
Store's manager Raju Mehta said Payne entered El Paseo Jewelers and identified herself as "Audrey." She told him she wanted to make a purchase because her other jewelry had been stolen and said she had an insurance check for $40,000. Payne had him show her multiple pieces of jewelry and, he says, she took the ring while he wasn't watching.
"It was a sleight-of- hand type of thing," said Capt. Kevin Vest, who oversees the sheriff's station in Palm Desert.
Payne asked to look at other jewelry and remained in the store for another 20 minutes to avoid suspicion, Mehta said. He reported the theft the next day to the sheriff's department.
"It makes you angry, it makes you feel violated and that's what happened to me," said Mehta, who added that he was surprised the crime was committed by a senior citizen. "She stole right in front of my eyes."
Boone described Payne as "extremely smart," but far from dangerous.
"She's not a threat to your person; she's a threat to your business," she said.
"It's her own addiction," Boone said. "She just likes to see if she can do it."
Pond, who is based in Palm Springs, said Payne was not materialistic and occasionally threw away jewelry right after she took it.
"It's just one big giant make-believe and one big, giant makeup session," he said. "In her mind, she's a teenager at heart."
Whether to release Payne at issue
During Tuesday's arraignment, Payne's attorneys argued for her release, but Lofthouse said her track record as a jewel thief and her lack of ties to the Coachella Valley made her a flight risk.
"She has been a fugitive from justice numerous times," Lofthouse told the judge. "She was released from prison three months ago and here we are on a new violation of the law."
Payne was last convicted in January 2011 for stealing an $8,900 diamond ring from a San Diego Macy's department store.
Her attorneys in that case, Guadalupe Valencia and Gretchen von Helms, are again representing Payne.
They said Payne should be released because they haven't seen any evidence to justify her being held on bail.
"She's not happy to be here," Valencia said. "We believe she should get out of custody and fight this from the outside."
Both attorneys said it was premature to comment on the case since they haven't seen any evidence and von Helms said "it's important to give (Payne) the benefit of the doubt."
John Hall, a spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney's office, wouldn't comment on the evidence.
But "if we did not believe we had the evidence to file a charge and prove that person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 jurors, we would not file a charge," he said.
Payne was supposed to be arraigned on Oct. 31, but arraignment was rescheduled to give Payne time to find an attorney.
Store manager: Judge 'ruled appropriately'
Outside the courtroom after Tuesday's arraignment, El Paseo Jewelers manager Raju Mehta said the judge "ruled appropriately."
"I'm happy with it. She's not going to hurt anyone," Mehta said.
But Valencia argued that "because she has a long criminal history, it doesn't mean she's guilty."
Despite her age and notoriety, her attorneys said Payne has a sharp mind and is not a danger to anyone.
"If you met her, you'd love her," Valencia said.
Payne's preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 11.
'Never going to risk going back'
In January 2011, Payne was convicted for stealing an $8,900 diamond ring one year earlier from a Macy's department store in San Diego.
By that point, she had several prior convictions for theft and had been sent to prison twice. During her 2011 conviction, she also faced extradition to Michigan to face accusations she stole a three-diamond ring from a Neiman Marcus in 1998.
Payne was released after serving 2½ years in a Northern California prison.
"She made it out and she swore black and blue to me that was it; that she was never going to risk going back in those conditions," Pond said.
She had been living in a Riverside motel during the summer, said Pond, and celebrated her 83rd birthday on Oct. 10.
After five decades of committing thefts, Pond said, advanced security cameras have played a role in catching Payne.
"Technology is her downfall at this point," Pond said.
Doris Payne, international diamond thief, has been all over the world and to lavish areas all to steal high-profile jewelry. However, she's not your typical thief. The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun