Luke Brugnara Gets Seven Years in Prison for Art Fraud

Judge says evidence of Brugnara's fraud is clear.

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

Luke Brugnara.
Photo: via ABC.

On October 20, a federal judge in San Francisco sentenced real estate investor Luke Brugnara to seven years in prison for defrauding a New York art dealer.

According to Courthouse News, which has followed the case extensively, the sentencing triggered another courtroom tirade by Brugnara, whose outbursts have clearly irked officials and drawn nearly as much attention as his fraudulent activities.

During the ruling, Courthouse News reports a red-faced Brugnara stating, “This is a travesty of justice because I’m innocent. I’m not a thief.” He then said that he had been “fed lies by the US attorneys.”

The former real estate tycoon was indicted in June 2014 after he purchased an Edgar Degas bronze Little Dancer sculpture among other works that he said he was planning to install in a museum to be built in San Francisco, which were allegedly delivered to Brugnara’s home in San Francisco, according to SF Gate; he was charged with mail fraud after he allegedly received the works and never paid for them.

Earlier, when art dealer Rose Long demanded payment for the five crates she had shipped to Brugnara, he allegedly claimed they were a gift.

FBI agents eventually recovered a drawing by Joan Miró, a series of etchings by Picasso, 16 paintings that were originally attributed to Willem de Kooning—the authenticity of which has since been challenged—and a painting by George Luks.

“I have never heard him accept responsibility for his actions. He defended everything he did,” US District Judge William Alsup said during the sentencing. He noted instances where Brugnara maintained that the Degas had “never left the truck,” and implied it was stolen by the delivery driver. (The Degas statue is still missing.)

Alsup said the evidence “is pretty clear [the Little Dancer] was delivered, and that Mr. Brugnara has it hidden away somewhere.”

During his trial, Brugnara presented two theories including that the Degas had never been shipped, and that the bronze had been delivered to his garage where workmen “mistook the crate containing the Degas for a toilet and stole it,” according to Courthouse News.

This past May, a jury convicted Brugnara of two counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of making false declarations to the court, escape and contempt. He had briefly escaped from the federal building while on a furlough prior to his conviction.

Assistant U.S. attorney Benjamin Kingsley had stated the best way to describe Brugnara is as “an economic catastrophe to the country.” George Boisseau, an attorney for Brugnara, said his bipolar disorder was a factor in his inability to take responsibility for his actions.

Boisseau recommended that Brugnara be sentenced to 30 months because of his mental health issues.


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