Alleged Art Swindler Luke Brugnara Threatens Judge With Retribution

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

The always-interesting case of accused art fraudster Luke “Lucky” Brugnara, who allegedly bought $11 million in art he couldn’t afford to pay for, has taken a new turn: Courthouse News reports that the swindler threatened US District Judge William Alsup when he denied Brugnara bail.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that any judge in his right mind would move to release Brugnara after his recent escape from the San Francisco Federal Building during a meeting with his then-lawyer, Erik Babcock, who has since withdrawn from the case (see Art Thief and Real Estate Mogul Luke Brugnara Escapes Federal Custody).

Amusingly, Brugnara blames his jailbreak on the court-appointed lawyer, telling Alsup that Babcock let him leave and that “this alleged absconding was contrived because he wasn’t prepared for trial.”

He was subsequently recaptured in Los Gatos, south of San Jose after a week on the lam (see Art Fraudster Luke Brugnara Recaptured After Daring Jailbreak—We Love This Guy). Brugnara is now charged with escape and false statement, in addition to mail fraud.

The convicted art poacher stands accused of buying artworks by Willem de Kooning, Edgar Degas, George Luks, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso, but refusing to pay up after delivery (see Real Estate Mogul Mixed Up in $11 Million Art Fraud). If convicted on all counts, Brugnara could face up to 115 years behind bars.

Though he is now without representation, Brugnara seemed confident, telling the court “I’m still going to win. I’m going to be found innocent.” He went on to issue a threat, saying “make sure you know what you’re doing because there will be consequences when I’m acquitted.”

“Thank you for giving the Court of Appeal yet another sterling example of how you abuse the court process,” responded Alsup.

In his most recent court appearance last week, Brugnara petitioned Alsup for his release, claiming “I have wasting syndrome. I need to get some sleep, eat proper food and get some rest to prepare for trial. I just want to prepare for trial, win the trial and go home.”

After Babcock removed himself from the case, Brugnara refused to accept another court-appointed attorney (he has had four to-date), and began representing himself. At a special Faretta hearing, the court is looking to determine whether or not Brugnara is willfully refusing counsel, or has been compelled to do so.

Brugara claims that he has two potential lawyers on tap (John Keker of Keker & Van Nest or Thomas “Tippi” Mazzucco of Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney), provided he can get out of jail long enough to rustle up the $3 million to pay them.

Courthouse News reports that Alsup believes that Brugnara’s refusal to accept the court’s representation is a clever ruse, designed to provide him grounds to appeal to the 9th Circuit. His bail request is being separately reviewed by US District Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins.

“In my view, you’re a flight risk, a danger to the community and not amenable to supervision,” Alsup said. “If Judge Cousins disagrees with me, God bless him.”

The bail hearing is schedule for April 1.


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