A San Francisco man previously convicted of tax evasion and trout poaching has been charged with mail fraud for allegedly saying he would pay $11 million for art delivered to him from a New York dealer. He never paid for or returned the pieces, according to prosecutors.
Luke Brugnara, 50, was named in a complaint this Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The FBI claims he agreed in April to buy 16 works by Willem de Kooning for $7.3 million from an unnamed New York dealer.
He also told the dealer he would buy a $3 million Edgar Degas sculpture, a George Luks painting for $450,000, a $160,000 drawing by Joan Miró and $145,000 worth of etchings by Pablo Picasso, according to the affidavit.
The dealer attempted to get partial paymnet upfront to which Brugnara responded he was already a paying client, having bought a $500,000 Renoir and a Picasso from her in the past.
He also claimed to be opening a museum in San Francisco which the dealer questioned. He then changed the location to Las Vegas, the complaint alleges.
When the artwork was delivered to Bruganara's home, the dealer accompanied the pieces. Brugnara had delivery personnel put the art into his garage. The dealer urged him to open the crates using special tools to which Brugnara refused because he was "very busy," according to the affidavit.
Attempts by the dealer to collect payment were rebuffed. The dealer's lawyer said that Brugnara then called the artwork "unauthenticated and not worth much," and said it was gifted to him.
A former real estate investor and casino owner, Brugnara was sentenced to 30 months in prison for tax fraud in 2010, the same time as he was convicted for poaching threatenend steelhead trout.
Brugnara is being held without bail, with a court hearing on Friday. A federal probation officer wroteupon Brugnara’s release from jail in 2012 that he had “no assets whatsoever.”