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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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New Trial Denied for ‘Bullying’ Art Fraudster

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - In an order Friday, a federal judge said convicted art fraudster Luke Brugnara does not deserve a second bite at the apple through a new trial, and that he hamstrung himself through a "bullying" defense strategy that ultimately failed.

Brugnara, who represented himself at his jury trial in May, argued through his new attorney George Boisseau on Thursday that the art in question is worth less than one-tenth of the $11 million he agreed to purchase it for, and that his mental health issues kept him from receiving a fair trial.

"Almost all of the present criticisms of the trial are anchored in the conscious choices and strategies Brugnara pursued throughout the proceedings," U.S. District Judge William Alsup wrote. "He has no one to blame but himself for the way his strategy played out."

Brugnara was indicted in June 2014 after ordering and receiving what was alleged to be $11 million worth of art, including an Edgar Degas sculpture cast in bronze by the Valsuani foundry for an art museum Brugnara said he was planning to build in San Francisco.

When art dealer Rose Long demanded payment, Brugnara claimed the art had been a "gift."

A jury convicted Brugnara, 51, of two counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of making false declarations to the court, escape and contempt. Brugnara briefly escaped from the San Francisco federal building before he was convicted when he was taken from jail to meet with his former attorney Erik Babcock.

The Degas is still missing, but the FBI recovered a drawing by Joan Miró, a series of etchings by Pablo Picasso, 16 paintings attributed to Willem de Kooning and a painting by George Luks.

Boisseau argued Thursday that new evidence shows the de Koonings are forgeries worth practically nothing, a claim disputed by the owners of the works. Alsup rejected this argument Friday, writing, "This evidence regarding the value of the de Koonings is simply not new and Brugnara's failure to present it to the jury via expert testimony resulted from the defense's lack of diligence."

Alsup also didn't buy that Brugnara's frequent abusive outbursts during trial were the product of a mental illness which prohibited him from adequately representing himself and entitled him to a new trial.

"The court is convinced, after more than three dozen hearings with Brugnara over almost a year that his misbehavior was part of a considered strategy to bull his way through difficult situations," Alsup wrote, adding, "He is accustomed to bulling his way through difficult circumstances and tries to land blow after blow until the obstacle gives way. This is not incompetence - this is bullying."

Brugnara is set to be sentenced Oct. 14.

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