Jewel Thief’s Notoriety Gives Boost to Charity Auction

After infamous octogenarian jewel thief flinched a ring from El Paseo Jewelers in Palm Desert, Calif., two years ago, owner Raju Mehta thought the ring was “all but gone.”

Yet, days after Payne’s umpteenth arrest, the ring, in 18k gold with 3.5 cts. t.w. diamonds, resurfaced. Payne, then 83, had hocked the ring, which retailed for more than $20,000, to a local jeweler for $700. The retailer called Mehta and told him he had his ring.

“I told him: ‘Don’t call me, call the police department,’ ” Mehta says.

When Mehta got the ring back, he decided to make something positive come out of the episode. He auctioned off the ring and donated the proceeds to the Barbara Sinatra Center for Abused Children at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He thought this was appropriate given that Payne had a rough childhood.

He also figured that her notoriety would increase the price.

“Everyone knows about her,” he says.

The final auction garnered $6,600 for the ring (“less than I paid wholesale for it,” Mehta says). At the winner’s request, Mehta added a framed copy of a 2013 front-page Los Angeles Times story about Payne.

Payne, now 85, has not ended her criminal career; she was arrested again in February.

Mehta says that the Payne theft has had another unexpected positive effect: It has given the store publicity. “I have done a couple of documentaries,” he says. “Every time she steals, I am on TV.”

JCK News Director