Accused Art Thief Blames Jailers for Outbursts

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – On trial for mail and wire fraud, fallen real estate mogul Luke Brugnara blamed his treatment at the Alameda County jail for his bizarre behavior in court and demanded that U.S. District Judge Alsup allow this explanation to be given to the jury.
     “If I were in the jury box, I’d think this guy is nuts,” Brugnara said, launching into a rant about how he has not been allowed to shower or shave for five days and that deputies are trying to prevent him from preparing for trial by repeatedly throwing his legal papers into garbage bags.
     Brugnara also spent this past weekend on suicide watch in Santa Rita jail, where he claims to have been thrown naked into a cell caked with feces for 30 hours. Since the incident, he has taken to calling the deputies his “North Vietnamese captors.”
     “I haven’t showered, haven’t shaved. That’s why I’m acting crazy,” he told the judge.
     Brugnara, who is representing himself against the U.S. government for allegedly conning a New York art dealer out of $11 million in fine art including a missing Edgar Degas sculpture, has consistently bullied witnesses, argued with the U.S. attorneys and generally turned the court into a lurid spectacle for nearly two weeks.
     “You’re trying to turn this trial into the biggest train wreck you can,” Alsup said Tuesday.
     Alsup, who seems to fully believe that Brugnara is deliberately hanging himself in order to get the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn his inevitable conviction, has so far added 295 days to Brugnara’s sentence for summary contempt – earning 111 of those days for calling U.S. District Attorney Robin Harris a “Nazi” in front of the jury on Tuesday.
     “You’re racking up a lot of time in this case. You deserve more,” Alsup said.
     “She’s worse than a Nazi in my opinion,” Brugnara said. “And you don’t care about me; none of you care about me. It’s not fair. You’ve orchestrated this whole case and because you don’t like the way I communicate, you’re punishing me.”
     “I’m not going to try to argue with you on the falsehoods in your speech. You got away earlier with saying Ms. Harris dresses like she’s in North Korea,” Alsup fired back.
     On Wednesday, Brugnara fought with Alsup over the contempt sentences. “If you hate me that much, why don’t you just recuse yourself? Say, ‘I fucking hate you’ and recuse yourself.”
     Harris asked Alsup to keep Brugnara from bringing up the summary contempt orders in front of the jury.
     “You think that will do any good?” Alsup asked wearily.
     Brugnara interjected, “Can you just hand Ms. Harris your robe? Because she’s trying to direct the court.”
     Alsup answered, “You elected to represent yourself. I am sympathetic to you as a pro se person and you’ve gone through some extra burdens. It is totally improper for you to lay before the jury your sad story about your papers having been messed up by the jail staff.”
     “I want a mistrial,” Brugnara shouted, slamming his fist on the defense table. Turning to Harris and U.S. Attorney Ben Kingsley, he said, “I’d like to have Mr. Kingsley and Ms. Harris have their legal papers thrown into garbage bags and shaken up, oh and by the way, no showers, no shave, and being thrown in a feces-covered cell. This is a kangaroo court.”
     Since Friday, Alsup has been offering Brugnara a chance to take a break from trial to organize his paperwork, but Brugnara instead angled for bail. Considering his escape from federal custody in February, however, Alsup has made it clear that release is impossible.
     The judge is still steaming from Brugnara’s defiance of a furlough order that allowed him to meet with his former court-appointed attorney, Erik Babcock, at the San Francisco Federal Building. Brugnara walked out of the building after a meeting with Babcock on February 5 and spent six days on the lam before being apprehended by the FBI.
     Babcock testified Wednesday, but said little on the stand other than that he could see “no observable injuries” to Brugnara.
     At a hearing after Wednesday’s proceedings, Alsup addressed the only defense Brugnara has for that escape, U.S. Supreme Court case United States vs. Bailey.
     Under Bailey, duress or necessity can be used as a defense to an escape charge. Brugnara claims that he was dying of malnourishment in the Glenn Dyer jail in Oakland and fully intended to return for his trial, originally scheduled to begin Feb. 26.
     Brugnara pointed to a voicemail he left with Alsup’s clerk before he was apprehended, saying he planned to show up in court on Feb. 26. He also claimed Babcock would have represented him on the fraud case, but as private counsel.
     Rubbing his temple, Alsup said, “Are you saying Babcock was going to go over to the Brugnara gold mine and get paid from the gold mine?”
     “He believes in the Brungara gold mine,” Brugnara said.
     The voicemail doesn’t cut it as a Bailey defense, Alsup said.”What we have here is vague and self-serving statements about future good intentions. At the very best this was a gimmick to delay the trial,” he added.

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