AP source: Art theft spree suspect due in US court

AP News
Posted: Dec 01, 2011 11:14 PM
AP source: Art theft spree suspect due in US court

A wine steward suspected of a string of brazen art thefts was headed for court Friday 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 $275,000 Picasso off a San Francisco art gallery wall. He is due to be arraigned Friday on grand larceny and other charges related to art heists at two Manhattan hotels, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter ahead of the arraignment.

It's unclear whether Lugo has 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 $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 $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 also is being charged with stealing a group of five works by the South Korea-born artist Mie Yim, known for her disconcerting images of toy bears and other toy-like creatures, from the Chambers Hotel, the person said. The hotel had bought the Yim works, together called "Pastel on Board," for $1,800 apiece, the person said.

The San Francisco district attorney's office had said Lugo also was suspected of several other New York art heists. It wasn't immediately clear whether the New York investigation was continuing.

The sometime sommelier and server at upscale Manhattan restaurants also is charged in New Jersey with taking $6,000 worth of wine _ in the form of three bottles of Chateau Petrus Pomerol _ in April from Gary's Wine and Marketplace.

Lugo pleaded guilty in October to grand theft for the San Francisco heist. He finished his sentence Nov. 21 but was being held until he could be transferred to New York.