Accused Swindler Sets Conditions for Testifying

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Accused art swindler Luke Brugnara will only testify in his own defense if he is apprised of what questions the government will ask beforehand, he told U.S. District Judge William Alsup on Thursday.
     “I need to know so I can decide whether I want to testify,” said Brugnara, who is representing himself at his trial for mail and wire fraud over $11 million worth of fine art which he allegedly bought but never paid for.
     “I want a limit on what they can ask me,” he added.
     Brugnara said he would not testify if prosecutors bring up any allegations of threats or bullying from his past. He’d also like to keep the jury from hearing about his relationship with two women, said to be his girlfriends.
     Brugnara was caught driving with one of the women several days after fleeing federal custody in February, and he has been charged with escape and contempt in addition to mail and wire fraud and making false declarations.
     “Your relationship with the two women involved, that’s going to be an open book,” Alsup said in a brief hearing out of the jury’s earshot.
     Assistant U.S. Attorney Robin Harris said Brugnara lied to the jury during his cross-examination of art dealer Rose Long Wednesday, where he shouted, “It’s unfair for me to be in jail when I’m innocent and my civil liberties are at stake. No one has accused me of criminal misconduct for 50 years of my life except this lady.”
     Harris said that statement “opened the door” for her to bring up his past felony convictions for tax evasion and trout poaching, for which Brugnara began serving concurrent sentences in 2010.
     “It’s all semantics,” Brugnara said of his statement Wednesday. “What I get from this is ‘no one’ as in ‘no individual.”
     “That’s absolutely preposterous,” Harris said.
     Alsup agreed with Harris. “The door has been opened. You can put in the two convictions,” he told Harris.
     He also denied Brugnara’s verbal motion Thursday morning for a mistrial over statements Alsup previously made that Brugnara claims are prejudicial, which include “Giving you a phone is like giving a bank robber a gun,” and “You are a flim-flam artist.”
     Alsup said it is too late for Brugnara’s motion, as he has already been given an opportunity to move for a mistrial and has been given multiple chances to accept representation by counsel, all of which he has rejected.
     “Some of the statements I did make but every statement I did make was all in the course of doing the job a judge is supposed to do. I was required to make statements as to why you can’t have a phone,” Alsup said, referring to Brugnara’s violation of an earlier court order where he made unauthorized calls from a halfway house.
     “Nothing has been said in the presence of a jury,” Alsup noted. “I’ve bent over backwards to help you.”
     Alsup also tacked on an additional 31 days in jail for contempt, for Brugnara’s repeatedly interruptions of both judge and prosecutors, despite stern warnings that more outbursts would lead to more jail time.

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