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Judge to decide whether career jewel thief's bail money is legitimate

Crime, Law and JusticeTheftCrimeCourts and the Judiciary

A Riverside County Superior Court judge is expected to rule next week on whether the money an 83-year-old career jewel thief wants to use to post her jail bond is from a legitimate source.

On Thursday, attorneys scheduled the hearing over Doris Payne’s $65,000 bail for Jan. 3. A trial readiness conference was scheduled for early February.

Payne, whose exploits have grabbed international headlines, is charged with second-degree burglary and grand theft -- she is accused of stealing a diamond-encrusted ring from a Palm Desert jewelry store in October -- and has pleaded not guilty.

In his decision this month to keep Payne in custody in lieu of $65,000 bail pending a hearing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Richard A. Erwood noted that the 83-year-old had listed her occupation on court papers as "jewelry thief" -- something she had done in at least one previous arrest.

Payne’s attorney, Gretchen von Helms, said she respected Erwood’s decision but was nonetheless disappointed.

“It’s not whether or not she’s guilty, it’s whether you’ll come back and face the music,” Von Helms said. “And Doris has a long history of coming back to face the music.”

In a preliminary hearing this month, store manager Raju Mehta testified that it was Payne who walked into El Paseo Jewelers the morning of Oct. 21 and said she wanted to buy a necklace with a $42,000 insurance check. The woman tried on a few pieces before leaving the store, Mehta said.

Payne returned shortly after, he testified, and said she wanted to buy a necklace, earrings and a ring for her pinkie finger. Mehta said he helped the woman try on a few pieces, then moved her to a seat at a ring display case after she complained that her hip hurt.

The woman tried on several pieces -- including a diamond-and-white-gold ring valued at $22,500 -- and said she would return the next morning to buy three items, Mehta said.

That evening, he testified, he was notified by his store employees that the $22,500 ring was missing.

Jodi Clapinski, who works as a sales associate at the jewelry store, testified that she realized something was wrong when she noticed a display finger in the case was bare.

"We were missing a ring," she said.

Mehta and Clapinski each said they didn’t see Payne take the ring. Other customers were in the store after she left, Clapinski said.

Later that day, Payne walked into the Exchange, a secondhand dealer not far from the jewelry store, testified Michael Jacobs, whose wife owns the shop. 

"She had a ring that she wanted to sell," Jacobs said of Payne.

Jacobs said Payne asked $1,000 for the diamond ring, a price he said he "wasn't comfortable" offering after examining the piece. He said that it measured as a different carat weight than she had claimed, and that the center diamond had "some imperfections." He offered her $800 instead.

Payne agreed to the deal and followed store protocol by signing and putting her thumbprint on a form required for sales, Jacobs testified. A copy of that form goes to police, Jacobs said, to report what items the store has bought.

Authorities came to the store “shortly” after Oct. 21 to ask about the ring, Jacobs said.

The witnesses said they didn’t recognize the woman who walked into their stores. It wasn’t until later, they said, that they learned who she was.

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Twitter: @josephserna

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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