Jury Convicts Accused Art Swindler Brugnara

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – ­­Tax evader, trout poacher and fallen real-estate mogul Luke Brugnara can now add wire and mail fraud, escape and contempt to his list of criminal convictions.
     After roughly seven hours of deliberations, a jury found 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 on Tuesday.
     The U.S. government’s prosecution of Brugnara stemmed from his bilking an art dealer of $11 million in fine art, including a Degas bronze that remains missing.
     Brugnara – who represented himself – turned the court upside down throughout the more than two-week-long trial with bombastic speeches, defiant outbursts and frequent personal attacks on U.S. District Judge William Alsup and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robin Harris.
     Although Brugnara remained calm Tuesday morning while Alsup read the verdict, he unleashed his anger on the judge in characteristic fashion afterward.
     “You’ve been prejudiced against me from day one. You orchestrated this venue,” Brugnara said.
     “Get the noose ready. We can loop up the noose over there. We can use my belt. It’s called a lynching,” he added.
     Addressing the audience packed with FBI agents, district attorneys, clerks and reporters, he said, “Do I look surprised to anybody? This judge hates me. He orchestrated this verdict.”
     Brugnara complained that the jury was prejudiced as well, save for one juror who was disqualified on Monday for lying about his criminal past during jury selection.
     That juror, Ivan Jakic, was removed from the building and sent to St. Francis Memorial Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation after a violent screaming fit in front of the court Monday where he called Alsup and prosecutors Nazis.
     Jakic’s outburst followed an incident on Friday, when he stormed out of the jury room and was found by court security officers wandering the halls and ranting, “They’re all prejudiced, this is not justice! Mr. Brugnara, they’re trying to make you guilty!”
     By then, the jury had been deliberating for two full days. Brugnara had pushed for Jakic to stay on the jury because he was leaning in favor of acquittal.
     “The one dissenting juror was pulled off at the 11th hour,” Brugnara said on Tuesday, immediately after the verdict was read.
     “Mr. Brugnara, please,” Alsup said.
     “No,” Brugnara persisted. “This is totally unacceptable. I asked for a mistrial.”
     Alsup dismissed the jury, telling them he’d meet them in the jury room later to shake their hands.
     “Shake their hands and pay them off,” Brugnara interjected.
     He added for Alsup’s benefit: “Outside this room you’re just another man, but in here you’re God. You should sleep in here too so you can be God 24/7. When your day comes you’ll be judged for what you did to me.”
     Brugnara faces up to 100 years in prison for wire fraud, mail fraud and making false declarations relating to the stolen art. He will be sentenced Sept. 8.
     While Brugnara had said he wanted to buy the works to put in a museum he was building, he later held the works – which also included 16 paintings by Willem de Kooning and six etchings by Pablo Picasso – in his garage and later claimed they were a gift.
     The FBI seized four of the crates in a raid on his Sea Cliff home in 2014. But a fifth crate containing the most valuable piece in the shipment, a Valsuani bronze cast of an Edgar Degas sculpture called “The Little Dancer, Age Fourteen,” remains missing.
     Contempt and escape charges were added to his indictment after he fled from the San Francisco Federal Building on Feb. 6.
     The jury found Brugnara not guilty on two of the wire fraud counts, related to two emails he sent New York art dealer Rose Long before she shipped the art.
     “I will buy all of the paintings and put them in my museum,” Brugnara wrote in the first. In the second, he wrote: “Thank you. I look forward to putting them in my museum.”
     The jury also found the government hadn’t made its case for count seven of the indictment, referring to alleged false declarations Brugnara made to the court at a hearing on June 17, 2014, where he said he had emailed the head of Sotheby’s in New York and heard back that the de Koonings were not authentic and passed that information to Long over the phone.
     Jurors refused to speak to media as they left the jury room.
     Federal prosecutors also declined to comment outside the courtroom.
     In addition to any sentence he receives, Brugnara will serve 471 days in jail for summary contempt for repeatedly ignoring Alsup’s orders to stop interrupting him, for his attacks on Harris, and his prejudicial statements in front of the jury. He earned 90 of those days yesterday when, against Alsup’s orders not to speak, he clapped his hands and yelled “this is not helping me” at Jakic.
     Tuesday afternoon, Alsup issued an order for Brugnara to return the Degas bronze to Long before sentencing. “If the defendant in any way proposes to return the bronze Degas in question to Rose Long as a way to reduce his potential sentence, then it should be done promptly and unconditionally and under circumstances wherein the chain of custody and integrity of the artwork can be verified by Ms. Long as well as by any expert she designates,” the order says. “This order does not reach the question of whether any such return would warrant consideration in sentencing. It simply requires that any such action be done promptly if it is to be done before sentencing.”

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