Sat, Dec 03, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Art theft spree suspect takes stand in US court


A wine steward suspected of a string of brazen art thefts was headed for court yesterday in New York to face charges after serving time in California for snatching a Picasso pencil sketch, a person briefed on the investigation said.

Mark Lugo just finished a 138-day sentence for grabbing the US$275,000 Picasso off a San Francisco art gallery wall. He was due to be arraigned yesterday on grand larceny and other charges related to art heists at two Manhattan hotels, the person said on condition of anonymity.

It was unclear whether Lugo had a New York lawyer. His San Francisco attorney, Douglas Horngrad, has called him “more like someone who was in the midst of a psychiatric episode” than a calculating art thief.

Lugo, 31, has been publicly identified as a suspect in several New York heists since shortly after his July arrest in San Francisco, where police identified him as the man who walked into the Weinstein Gallery, lifted the 1965 Picasso drawing Tete de Femme (“Head of a Woman”) off the wall, strolled down the street with the sketch under his arm and hopped into a taxi. Police tracked Lugo to a friend’s apartment, where the Picasso was found unframed and prepared for shipping.

Investigators then found a US$430,000 trove of stolen art and high-priced wine in his apartment in New Jersey, where the pieces were carefully and prominently displayed, authorities said.

In New York, the charges against Lugo include taking a US$350,000 drawing by the Cubist painter Fernand Leger from a lobby gallery at Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel, according to the person briefed on the investigation. The drawing, called Composition with Mechanical Elements, dates to 1917 and disappeared in June.

Lugo is also being charged with stealing a group of five works by the South Korea-born artist Mie Yim from the Chambers Hotel, the person said.

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