Brugnara Convicted in $11 Million Art Scam

brugnaraA federal jury found real estate developer Luke Brugnara guilty of an $11 million art theft that included a $3 million sculpture of Edgar Degas’ ballerina called “Little Dancer.”

Brugnara, 51, who represented himself in the San Francisco courtroom, was accused of fraudulently convincing a New York art dealer to ship him the works by Pablo Picasso, Jean Miro, Degas and Willem de Kooning with the promise that he would pay $11 million.

Instead, federal prosecutors said that he simply never acknowledged receipt of the works and failed to pay dealer Rose Long.

Following a three-week trial the jury convicted Brugnara Tuesday on six of nine counts.  The charges in the bizarre case included his escape from federal custody in February just as his trial was approaching.  He was arrested six days later in Los Gatos.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup had previously sentenced Brugnara to more than two years prison for tax evasion and multiple times for contempt of court for outbursts during the theft trial.

Brugnara had argued that Long gave him the works as a gift and that the Degas was a “fake” and thus worthless.

Jurors believed Long’s assertion that Brugnara had told her he would pay for the works and planned to put them in a museum.

Agents recovered four crates of art from Brugnara’s toney Sea Cliff address but the Degas remains missing.

Brugnara, whose knickname is “Lucky Luke,” is a real estate developer and investor who has operated in Las Vegas and San Francisco.  He will be sentenced on charges of wire and mail fraud later this year.

Case: U.S. v. Brugnara, No. 08-cr-222WHA

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