SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Alleged notorious fraudster and accused art thief Luke Brugnara was back in court Tuesday before a visibly annoyed U.S. District Judge William Alsup, but his “unwarranted outbursts” led to his removal from the courtroom.
Alsup, federal prosecutor Ben Kingsley and Brugnara’s soon-to-be-withdrawn counsel Erik Babcock tried to figure out when to proceed with his trial on mail fraud charges, which had to be pushed back because of Brugnara’s recent escape from federal custody earlier this month.
Brugnara fled the San Francisco Federal Building on Thursday, Feb. 3, under controversial furlough procedures Alsup approved late last year that allowed him to leave the Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland, change into street clothes and meet with Babcock at the federal building for trial preparation. Authorities found and re-arrested him less than a week later.
Babcock has since told the court that he intends to withdraw as Brugnara’s counsel, since prosecutors are likely to use the escape against Brugnara at his fraud trial and perhaps call Babcock as a witness.
A disheveled and recalcitrant Brugnara interrupted Alsup repeatedly with claims that he had not fled custody, but was merely attempting to get emergency medical treatment for a dislocated shoulder.
“I’m not waiving one day of my speedy trial rights,” Brugnara shouted, demanding to be allowed to represent himself. “I didn’t abscond, I had a medical emergency. Even if I’m pro se, I’m not waiting one more day.”
“You must stop talking,” Alsup warned. “Everything you say can be used against you.”
The government indicted Brugnara for mail fraud in June 2014, accusing the one-time real estate mogul of allegedly ordering and receiving more than $11 million worth of art, including a $3 million Edgar Degas sculpture, for an art museum he said he was planning to build in San Francisco. When the New York art dealer demanded payment, Brugnara later claimed the art had been a “gift.”
Brugnara continued to argue with Alsup even after being warned to remain silent.
“I had my shoulder dislocated that morning,” Brugnara said. “Look at the tapes. I needed emergency medical treatment. Nobody cares. I’m dying.”
“You caused this situation by absconding,” Alsup said. “Your lawyer is trying to get you to shut up and so am I.”
Brugnara insisted that Babcock had given him permission to leave. “Let’s get a lie detector in here,” he said, to which Alsup replied that the marshals would remove him if his outbursts continued.
They did continue, as Brugnara complained that he hadn’t seen his children in nine months, showered in four days or seen a razor in six. “Someone got shanked in my cell last night,” he said.
“At this point, I don’t believe anything you say,” Alsup said.
The judge also denied Brugnara’s request to hire a new lawyer.
“I’m not going to let you out so you can walk the streets for the alleged purpose of hiring counsel,” Alsup said. “You’ve stabbed the court in the back.”
“I don’t have a right to go pro se?” Brugnara interjected, at which point Alsup directed the marshals to remove him.
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