Court Keeps Artworks as Luke Brugnara Looks to Appeal Art Fraud Conviction

Luke Brugnara. Photo courtesy of the US Marshals Service.

Tax evasion, trout poaching, and now mail fraud: Luke Brugnara cannot get a break lately.

Following his May conviction for failing to pay for $11 million in art, Brugnara is awaiting sentencing and looking to appeal, while the dealers he allegedly conned are still waiting to recover their artwork from court custody.

“A drawing by Joan Miró, two paintings by Willem de Kooning paintings and a painting by George Luks will remain in evidence until the case against Brugnara is over,” according to Courthouse News. The Luks belongs to dealer Rose Ramey Long, who arranged the sales with Brugnara, while the other works belong to Walter Maibaum, owner of Modernism Fine Art in New York.

A fifth crate, containing a bronze cast of Edgar Degas‘s sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878–1881)was never recovered.

Long has since been sued by Maibaum over the missing statue, the most valuable of the works involved in the case.

Edgar Degas, Petite Danseuse de quatorze ans Executed in wax circa 1879-81 and cast in bronze from 1922. Photo: Sotheby's

Edgar Degas, Petite Danseuse de quatorze ans (Little Dancer Aged Fourteen).
Executed in wax circa 1879-81 and cast in bronze from 1922.
Photo: Sotheby’s.

The guilty verdict against the former real estate mogul came at the end of trial disrupted by the defendent’s lack of shoesa violent juror outburst, and Brugnara’s own threats against the judge and jury members.

He served as his own lawyer, and has received 13 separate contempt citations to date.

Before that, there was Brugnara’s daring jailbreak and subsequent recapturing; this circus act of a case has been nothing if not entertaining.

The trial’s end also did not disappoint, with Brugnara screaming “This judge hates me!” and “Get the noose ready!” after hearing the verdict, according to Courthouse News.

“That chaotic, vindictive outburst, which likely traumatized members of the jury…fairly summarized his total contempt for the court, for the jurors, and for basic rules of civility and courtroom decorum,” prosecutors noted in a memo urging Judge William Alsup to reject Brugnara’s motion to represent himself in the appeals process, according to Law 360.

Luke Brugnara. Photo: Brandon Fernandez, courtesy SF Weekly.

Luke Brugnara.
Photo: Brandon Fernandez, courtesy SF Weekly.

Alsup held Brugnara in criminal contempt for his end of trial disruption, and tacked on 471 days in jail to his sentence, which will be delivered on September 8.

In his pending appeal this fall, Brugnara will no longer be permitted to represent himself; his pro se status has been revoked.

The former mogul had to be carried out of court by marshals on Tuesday when he refused to stop speaking out of turn. His screams were audible during the rest of the hearing, which concerned the fate of the artworks he had arranged to buy.

Despite pleas from Maibaum’s lawyer, Alsup declined to return the artworks to the dealers, saying “the trial is over but the case is not. The items in evidence will remain in the record.”

Brugnara’s sentencing hearing is slated for September 8. He could face up to 20 years behind bars for the mail fraud and wire fraud, plus a fine of $250,000. He was also convicted of making false declarations to a court and escape, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

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