Convicted Art Fraudster Calls Paintings Fakes

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Lawyers for Luke Brugnara are claiming that 16 paintings the convicted fraudster ordered from an art dealer could be fake, prompting U.S. District Judge William Alsup to order an evidentiary hearing.
     Alsup gave both prosecutors and Brugnara’s lawyers until Sept. 2 to submit expert reports on the value of the William de Kooning paintings, confiscated by FBI agents from Brugnara’s home last year in an art deal gone sour.
     Brugnara, a former real estate mogul, was indicted in June 2014 for having allegedly ordered and received more than $11 million worth of art, including a bronze Edgar Degas statute cast by the Valsuani foundry for an art museum he said he was planning to build in San Francisco. When art dealer Rose Long demanded payment, Brugnara later claimed the art had been a “gift.”
     The Degas remains missing, but the FBI recovered a drawing by Joan Miro, a series of etchings by Pablo Picasso, 16 paintings by Willem de Kooning and a painting by George Luks.
     After a two-week trial in May, a jury found the 51-year-old Brugnara guilty of two counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of making false declarations to the court, escape and contempt.
     Alsup said Tuesday that he will use the experts’ valuations at the sentencing set for Sept. 8.
     Citing serious questions her expert Victor Wiener has about the authenticity of the de Koonings, Brugnara’s lawyer Dena Young asked Alsup not to release them to their original owners.
     With the anonymous owners claiming to have some interested buyers lined up through a dealer, they say that the works must first be returned.
     The government supported releasing the 14 paintings that were not used as trial exhibits, a move that Young called “a preemptive strike” to discredit Wiener. “He has substantial questions regarding authenticity and condition,” Young said of Wiener. “They have serious doubts about what my expert is going to say about these items. The issue is these pieces are not what they claim to be.”
     Wiener has taken issue with, among other things, a lack of appropriate provenance and some differences in technique, though the paintings appear to be in de Kooning’s style.
     Alsup questioned the government’s willingness to turn over the paintings.
     “My last opportunity to get to the bottom of things is going out the window,” Alsup told Assistant U.S. Attorney Robin Harris. “Why do you want to release them? Are you worried yourself that these are phony?”
     Harris answered, “No, we’re not.”
     Alsup said he plans to examine the works at the hearing in September “to get to the bottom of any differences” in the experts’ opinions.
     “My plan is to keep the works until then,” he said.
     
     CORRECTION: This article has been revised to remove an inaccuracy about the ownership of the art at issue. New York art dealer Walter Maibaum and his company, Modernism Fine Arts Inc., own the Picassos, the Miro painting and the Degas statute, but others own the de Koonings. Courthouse News regrets the error.

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