Brugnara’s ‘Disparaging’ of FBI Halts Trial

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Fallen real estate mogul Luke Brugnara brought his trial for mail and wire fraud to a screeching halt Friday after telling jurors the FBI was obligated to get his side of the story regarding an $11 million art deal gone sour.
     Brugnara is accused of allegedly conning New York art dealer Rose Long out of $11 million in fine art, including an Edgar Degas sculpture called “The Little Dancer, Age Fourteen” that remains missing.
     With his civil attorney Bob Kane on the stand having just testified that the first time he spoke with the FBI was after Brugnara’s arrest, Brugnara shouted at Kane to “forget the arrest!”
     Brugnara, who is representing himself in the criminal case, then asked, “Did they ever talk to you before I was arrested?”
     U.S. District Judge William Alsup had just admonished Brugnara over disparaging the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys in front of the jury.
     Brugnara had been questioning Kane on his correspondence with Harvey Schochet, a lawyer Kane said he presumed represented Long, regarding a deal to return the art. But Kane said that before Brugnara’s arrest on May 28, 2014, he learned that Long was not represented by Schochet but by David Shapiro, a former U.S. Attorney now in private practice.
     Brugnara asked Kane why Shapiro’s past experience as a federal prosecutor even came up in correspondence to Kane. “That’s kind of a weird way of introducing an attorney isn’t it?” Brugnara asked. Then he waved his finger at the U.S. Attorneys and FBI agents seated at the prosecution table. “Mr. Shapiro worked with this little group for 25 years,” he snapped.
     Alsup stopped him, something he’s had to do countless times during the two weeks of trial, as Brugnara can’t seem to stop posing argumentative and hearsay questions.
     “Several times the defendant has denigrated the U.S. Attorneys, the way they dress, calling them Nazis,” Alsup said. “Nobody ought to win or lose this case based on denigrating the other side. It’s not a personality contest or trying to make the U.S. Attorneys out to be bad. It doesn’t matter if Mr. Shapiro was an esteemed member of the prosecutor’s office.”
     “I disagree,” Brugnara shot back.
     “That’s too bad. It’s irrelevant,” Alsup said.
     Brugnara persisted. “So why would they put it in the first sentence? Hey this guy used to be a U.S. Attorney so you’d better watch out,” he said.
     “This is beyond improper,” Alsup said.
     But it was the question about whether the FBI contacted Kane prior to Brugnara’s arrest that led Alsup to excuse the jury and end the examination. “Did anyone get my side of the story?” Brugnara asked.
     Alsup told the jury that the FBI had no obligation to interview Brugnara or his attorney to “get his side.” Brugnara then accused Alsup of “making false statements to the jury.”
     This earned him 10 more days in jail for summary contempt. So far, he’s racked up close to 300 days.
     With the jury excused for the weekend, Alsup sparred with Brugnara over his likely testimony Monday, but first chided him for wasting the court’s time with his outbursts.
     “My time is being wasted,” Brugnara complained in response. “I’ve paid more taxes than everyone in this room combined. I’m the backbone of this country.”
     Brugnara was convicted for felony tax evasion in 2010.
     “I wish you paid your taxes, Mr. Brugnara,” Alsup said. “Maybe we wouldn’t have this deficit.”
     Brugnara demanded to be released on bail to prepare for his testimony and when Alsup refused, citing his escape in February from federal custody, Brugnara said Alsup was prejudiced against him. “I want you to recuse yourself and declare a mistrial,” he said.
     Alsup replied there was no basis for either.
     Changing tactics, Brugnara formed a triangle with raised arms. He said, “You can’t change me. I’m at the top of the pyramid.”
     Alsup’s retort was tinged with sarcasm. “And I’m down there with the bottom feeders,” he said.
     Brugnara tried to explain. “No, I’m saying I’m at the top of my pyramid and you’re at the top of your pyramid. That’s why we butt heads.”
     When Alsup replied that Brugnara was just a bully, Brugnara shouted, “You’re the type of guy who just wants to get to the next point so you can go home for Mother’s Day.”
     “My mother died in 1974, I’m sorry to say,” Alsup said. “It would be nice to see my mother.”
     “And I want to see my mother and my wife who has four minor children,” Brugnara cried. “I have a life too, I have a family too.”
     Brugnara’s meandering rant concluded with him declaring, “I am the United States of America.”
     Pointing at the prosecutors and FBI agents, he shouted, “I’m more of an American than they are, because they feed off the tax base I provide. Everyone hates being a U.S. Attorney. Everyone hates working in this building. Everyone I’ve ever met who works for the federal government is miserable.” Alsup cleared the courtroom, but said Brugnara could stay for a few hours to meet with his court-appointed advisory counsel.

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