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International Jewel Thief, 80, Nabbed in San Diego

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(SAN DIEGO) -- 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.

That's how Doris Payne, now 80, has been robbing jewelry stores blind for the better part of a century, her lawyer told ABC News Thursday.

Payne has served time in six states for theft. Her most recent conviction was Wednesday. Payne was found guilty of walking out of a San Diego, California Macy's with a diamond ring worth nearly $9,000 on Jan. 1, 2010.

According to her lawyer, Gretchen von Helms, Payne maintains that she has been wrongfully convicted – that it is a case of mistaken identity. Whatever the case, it's just the latest conviction in a career of thievery so notorious that, according to von Helms "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 denies 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 said.

The daughter of a West Virginia coal miner, Payne has reportedly traveled the world plying her trade under some of more than 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.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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