Alleged Art Fraudster Luke Brugnara Recaptured After Daring Jailbreak—We Love This Guy

A week on the lam ends in arrest for escaped art thief.

Luke Brugnara. Photo courtesy of the US Marshals Service.
Luke Brugnara. Photo courtesy of the US Marshals Service.

The thrilling tale of alleged art fraudster Luke Brugnara continues. The convicted trout poacher has been apprehended a week after escaping from federal custody. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, authorities arrested Brugnara yesterday in Los Gatos, south of San Jose.

Brugnara was nabbed after he was spotted in the passenger seat of a car leaving a Los Gatos apartment. Though he initially provided an alias, he was arrested without incident. Deputy U.S. marshal Joseph Palmer told the Chronicle that the vehicle was being operated by a “female associate” of the former real estate mogul.

The escape took place last Thursday, when Brugnara was permitted to change into street clothes and meet with his attorney, Erik Babcock, in the San Francisco Federal Building (see Art Thief and Real Estate Mogul Luke Brugnara Escapes Federal Custody). Brugnara was charged with mail fraud in June 2014 for allegedly buying $11 million worth of art by artists including Willem de Kooning, Edgar Degas, George Luks, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso that he was unable to pay for (see Real Estate Mogul Mixed Up in $11 Million Art Fraud).

Appearing before US District Judge William Alsup on Monday, Babcock denied any knowledge of Brugnara’s whereabouts, and asked to be removed from the case. “I don’t want to have to abandon ship but I have a big conflict here if the government is planning to charge my client with escape or a similar charge or use that evidence at trial in this case,” Babcock said. “At this point, I’m a witness.”

According to Courthouse News, Alsup was reluctant to remove Babcock from the case, as Brugnara has previously accused the judge of firing his legal representation.

The recapture of Brugnara comes as no surprise to Alsup. On Monday, the judge had assured the plaintiff’s counsel, who was arguing that artwork being held as evidence in the case should be released due to the the escape, that he was confident the trial would be able to proceed as planned. “I’ve been in this scenario before. Usually the absconder is found in a few months sometimes in a few days. I can’t guarantee that, but if history is a guide, that is the likely scenario.”


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