‘Lucky Luke’ Defense Lawyers Face Subpoena

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Government prosecutors will be allowed to subpoena attorneys for San Francisco real estate investor and accused art thief Luke Brugnara at his trial in two weeks.
     Brugnara, 50, also known as “Lucky Luke,” was indicted in June for mail fraud: ordering and receiving more than $11 million worth of art and then claiming it was a gift. He allegedly told an art dealer – who is not named in the indictment – that he wanted to buy several works of art for approximately $11 million for a museum he was building in San Francisco.
     Though he had no income or assets, Brugnara allegedly agreed to pay $7.32 million for 16 paintings by Willem de Kooning, $3 million for an Edgar Degas sculpture, $450,000 for a painting by American realist artist George Luks, $160,000 for a drawing by Joan Miro and $145,000 for etching by Pablo Picasso.
     According to an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Jeremy Desor, he wrote to the dealer in March 2014, “I will buy all of the paintings and put them in my museum,” and asked her to send them from New York to his San Francisco home for inspection.
     The art was packed into five custom crates and sent to Brugnara, but when the dealer arrived at his home, he seemed surprised to see her, telling her he was very busy and would arrange a time to open the crates and expect the artworks later. The dealer observed that the house was nearly empty. In the meantime, the crates were stored in Brugnara’s garage.
     Brugnara later told the dealer that she would have to deal with his attorney, the complaint says, adding that they were a gift. He wrote the dealer, “you freely gave me these items April 7th because you were downsizing and wanted me to have them.”
     Brugnara has had previous brushes with crime. In 2010, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison for filing false tax returns, making false statements, and violating the Endangered Species Act. He was still on supervised release when he committed the alleged fraud.
     At a hearing before U.S. Judge William Alsup, Brugnara’s attorney Erik Babcock said the government should not be allowed to view written communication between Brugnara and his civil attorneys, Harris Taback, Brandon LeBlanc and Robert Kane. Brugnara has already testified at an earlier hearing this year that he contacted Taback, LeBlanc and Kane, who “all said the same thing … Get those boxes out of your garage.” Taback also supposedly told Brugnara to “get a release signed.” Taback and LeBlanc have both represented Brugnara in past criminal cases against him.
     Babcock said the government’s motion for a waiver of attorney-client privilege is too broad.
     The government claims that as a defense, Brugnara will say that he was acting on good faith according to advice from his attorney, and prosecutors want to be able to review those communications before the trial starts on September 17. Federal prosecutor Benjamin Kingsley told Alsup, “We’re just trying to set this up now. I’m pretty certain he’s going to raise this,” He added, “The defendant is a smart man and he’s going to tiptoe up to the line and say things that make it look like he acted in good faith, without saying he relied on the advice of counsel.”
     Babock replied, “Mr. Kingsley must know my case better than I do.”
     Alsup agreed with the government, ordering that Taback, LeBlanc and Kane should produce the requested documents, to be held under seal with the court and reviewed by a special master. “I’m on to you,” he told Babcock. “What it comes down to is there a suggestion made to the jury that a lawyer blessed this. That’s where the rubber mets the road. The government could then inquire into those issues,” Alsup said. He added, “I’ve seen this movie so many times. If you’re trying to communicate to a jury that a lawyer was involved and guided Mr. Brugnara, that’s enough to let the jury know what he said.”
     Alsup said he was familiar enough with the case to suspect that “there is a great likelihood that Mr. Babcock and his client will decide to make references to communications with various lawyers in such a way as to raise the privilege. The government is going to subpoena every single one of these lawyers and have them ready for trial.”
     He added, “They will complain. Tell them too bad.”

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