Accused Art Thief Faces First Day of Trial Shoeless

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Accused art swindler Luke Brugnara showed uncharacteristic restraint in court on Monday, keeping his interruptions to a minimum as he and federal prosecutors went about choosing the jury that will decide his mail- and wire-fraud case.
     A jury of eight men and four women were picked after a voir dire that lasted roughly six hours. The jurors include a tax and probate attorney who has represented Jerry Garcia, an architect, a music teacher, a environmental remediation engineer, a grocery store cashier and a retired electrician with a penchant for giving U.S. District Judge William Alsup the thumbs up.
     Alsup admonished the jury to restrict their conversations between themselves to sports and the court-provided coffee and donuts before dismissing them for the day. Opening statements are scheduled for tomorrow.
     Brugnara is accused of ordering and refusing to pay for $11 million worth of fine art from a New York dealer. Prosecutors added contempt and escape charges when he went on the lam in February during a furlough to meet with his attorney, who then withdrew from the case.
     Brugnara is now representing himself, having refused offers of court appointed counsel. Alsup has subsequently rejected Brugnara’s motions for bail to hire private attorneys, given his persistent violation of court orders.
     Brugnara appeared before Alsup on Monday in a striped shirt, oversized tan blazer and prison-issued sandals, giving his name to Alsup and adding “appearing without shoes.” He blamed the U.S. Marshals Service for the error.
     Alsup was livid. “Why doesn’t this man have any shoes for Christ’s sake? He’s on trial and could go to jail and you want him to appear barefooted,” he said.
     Attorneys for the government said they “weren’t aware” of the situation. Alsup turned on them, too.
     “The government needs to help me,” the judge said. “If they don’t solve this problem I’m going to release him. Everyone says they don’t know anything. I don’t care if you have to go out and buy them. I’ll pay for them.”
     U.S. Attorney Ben Kingsley offered a spare pair of size 13 dress shoes that he keeps in his office.
     “Wait, what color are they?” Alsup asked. Kingsley replied that they were black.
     Brugnara, who said he “has no fashion sense,” accepted the offer and joked, “I’m going to keep them.”
     “They’re not a gift,” Alsup said.
     Later, Alsup said he expected the trial to last until at least May 21 and perhaps as late as June 5. The prospective jurors chuckled when Brugnara said, “I can’t imagine this case, as far as my explanation, lasting longer than a day.”
     Throughout the case, Alsup has been concerned with Brugnara’s appeal to the 9th Circuit, which he sees as inevitable if Brugnara is convicted. At the end of the day, he brought up the appeal during a scuffle over the time Brugnara agreed to meet with the government’s experts to review the disputed artworks.
     Brugnara said he never wanted to meet on the day he was expected to give his opening statement. The government said they were unable to arrange a different time.
     Visibly annoyed, Alsup told prosecutors, “Do you really want to turn this into an issue on appeal? Why won’t you be a help instead of a hindrance?”
     When Kingsley said he had expected Brugnara to stick to his word, Alsup shot back: “And do you really think that argument will fly with half the 9th circuit?”
     At one point Alsup told prosecutors, “This is not an easy trial to run.”
     “I understand,” Kingsley said. “The defendant is wearing my shoes.”

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