Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Accused Art Swindler’s Plea Fails to Impress

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Accused swindler "Lucky" Luke Brugnara on Thursday could not persuade a judge to release him pending his $11 million mail fraud trial, but U.S. District Judge William Alsup did thank him for providing "yet another sterling example of how you abuse the court process."

Brugnara is accused of stealing $11 million worth of fine art. Contempt and escape charges were added when he took it on the lam in February during a furlough to meet with his attorney, who then withdrew from the case.

"I have wasting syndrome," Brugnara told Alsup on Thursday. "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."

Along with his latest motion for bail, Thursday brought the continuation of Brugnara's Faretta hearing, held when a criminal defendant refuses court-appointed counsel so a judge can determine whether the choice is voluntary.

Brugnara has gone through four court-appointed attorneys and insists on representing himself, unless he's granted bail and hires private counsel.

Brugnara says he's already lined up John Keker of Keker & Van Nest or Thomas "Tippi" Mazzucco of Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney, and just needs to get out of jail so he can borrow $3 million to hire them.

His bail motion is pending before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Nathanel Cousins.

Alsup was not persuaded.

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

Alsup is already anticipating Brugnara's conviction and inevitable 9th Circuit appeal, where he will likely claim that he was compelled to represent himself because he was refused bail.

In convicted of all charges, Brugnara could face up to 115 years in prison for ordering millions in artwork from a New York dealer and refusing to pay.

The escape and contempt charges were added after he absconded from the San Francisco Federal Building in February. On Thursday, Brugnara implied that his then-attorney, Erik Babcock, had allowed him to leave the building.

"This alleged absconding was contrived because he wasn't prepared for trial," Brugnara told the skeptical Alsup.

Brugnara was at his most belligerent during Thursday's Faretta hearing, where it was revealed that the court's investigator refused to work with him despite never having met him, because of Brugnara's reputation for verbally abusing his attorneys.

Brugnara demanded that the investigator be removed from the court's Criminal Justice Act panel, saying he didn't want his tax dollars paying his salary.

"I pay more taxes than anyone in this room combined," Brugnara shouted. "What if he refused to work with me because I'm black?" he added, jumping back and gasping in mock horror.

"You abuse people, Mr. Brugnara," Alsup said. "Your reputation precedes you"

Unfazed, Brugnara said, "I'm still going to win. I'm going to be found innocent. 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," Alsup said.

Alsup granted Brugnara's request to proceed pro se. His bail hearing is set for April 1.

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