Man charged with stealing cubist sketch from New York hotel

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 02, 2011 9:33 PM
Man charged with stealing cubist sketch from New York hotel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A restaurant worker was charged on Friday with stealing six pieces of art, including a valuable cubist sketch, from two New York City hotels to hang on the walls of his New Jersey apartment.

The man, Mark Lugo, 31, had already spent over four months in jail for stealing a Picasso from a San Francisco gallery.

He pleaded not guilty on Friday to the New York charges, including stealing a $350,000 sketch by the French cubist artist Fernand Leger from the Carlyle Hotel's building and slipping it into a canvas tote bag, prosecutors said.

"In an effort to display stolen art in his apartment, this repeat art thief boldly walked out of two Manhattan hotels in broad daylight with valuable paintings," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said in a statement following Lugo's arraignment.

Lugo was being held in custody without bail.

James Montgomery, an attorney for Lugo, described him in an interview as a "pleasant, educated man," and said that he had "been through a very difficult time psychologically" but declined to elaborate.

Montgomery said that even if the allegations were proved, Lugo could nonetheless not be described as professional art thief, pointing out that police said they found the paintings on display in Lugo's home.

"If he was the person who was removing these paintings, he wasn't doing it for financial gain," he said.

The prosecution said Lugo first stole a set of five paintings called "Pastel on Board" by the South Korea-born artist Mie Yim from the Chambers Hotel in Manhattan in June. The hotel bought the paintings for $1,800 each.

Later that month, Lugo stole the Leger sketch -- called "Composition With Mechanical Elements -- from the Helly Nahmad Gallery in the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan, prosecutors said.

He was arrested in July after police found the art hanging in his apartment in Hoboken, across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

Meghan Hast, an assistant district attorney, told the court that police found an additional 13 pieces of art at the apartment, including four thought to have been stolen from New York galleries, a spokeswoman in the district attorney's office said. Investigations into those other artworks are ongoing.

The two most serious charges Lugo faces each carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail. The next hearing is set for February.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)