International Jewel Thief, 80, Sentenced to Five Years

From Monte Carlo to California, career thief Doris Payne uses charm to steal.

January 13, 2011, 11:08 AM

Feb. 10, 2011 — -- International jewel thief Doris Payne, 80, was sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday for her latest caper in a criminal career that stretches back more than half a century.

In court, Payne told the judge she didn't think he should "be harsh with [her]" after she was convicted of swiping a nearly $9,000 diamond ring from Macy's in San Diego on Jan. 1, 2010.

"I am truly sorry that this went on as long as it did," she said according to a report by ABC News' San Diego affiliate KGTV.

But Judge Frank Brown gave her five years, the upper end of the possible sentence.

"You won't stop," Judge Frank Brown said. "That's the problem here... She's a thief. She's charming. Santa Claus' wife, that's who she is."

Payne has been, by her own admission, a career thief and traveled the world plying her craft. She has never used a gun or lifted a finger in violence, but still slips out of jewelry stores with her loot, according to her lawyer Gretchen von Helms, who described her modus operandi to ABC News.

Dressed to the nines, she waltzes into a high-end jewelry store in Monte Carlo -- or Paris or Las Vegas -- and smiles at the clerk. She asks to try on a ring or a watch -- wait, no not that one, the other one. How about this one?

After trying on and admiring several pieces, all the while bantering with the sales clerk, she decides that, no, she won't be buying anything today. She glides out as gracefully as she came in and the clerk goes back to work.

It will be hours before the clerk realizes one of the more expensive pieces – a ring that nice old lady had tried on -- is missing.

"They're not robberies," von Helms said in January. "What she does is theft by beguilement. She goes in, she's charming, she talks to folks and leaves. She just happens to have a diamond with her."

Doris Payne: 20 Aliases, Five Social Security Numbers, Nine Dates of Birth

Last month, von Helms told ABC News Payne was so notorious that, "if there's been a jewelry theft and an African-American woman did it, everyone would say, 'It must've been Doris Payne.'"

"She's had a history of other times where she's been accused righteously, and also accused falsely," said von Helms. "She has a certain notoriety."

While Payne initially denied the latest crime attributed to her, she admitted that she makes a life on the other side of the law, sometimes in exotic locales.

"When I cross-examined her, I said, 'This is what you do. You're an international jewel thief,' and she said, 'Yes,'" San Diego Deputy District Attorney John Pro told ABC News shortly after Payne was convicted of the theft in January.

The daughter of a West Virginia coal miner, Payne has reportedly operated under 20 recorded aliases. ABC News has found she also has five social security numbers and nine different dates of birth on record. She sports an Interpol record that reaches back into the early 70s, von Helms said, and a U.S. rap sheet nearly 20 pages long.

Payne chuckled when she told the Associated Press in 2005, after an arrest in Nevada, that most of the near-legendary tales about her are true. She claimed to have stolen jewelry in Paris and Monte Carlo, including a successful heist from Cartier. But she also insisted in another newspaper article published the same year that she had retired.

Reports: Halle Berry to Play Payne in Upcoming Feature Film

Payne's globetrotting capers have become so well-known that a movie about her is in the works, with Halle Berry attached to play Payne, according to several reports.

But even for Berry, playing up to Payne's larger-than-life personality might be a challenge.

"She's a character, 80-years-old, really beautiful. She has a very wonderful, charming personality," von Helms said. "She's completely unique."

ABC News' Melissa Lenderman contributed to this report.

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