New Jersey resident Mark Lugo appeared in a San Francisco courtroom this morning to plead not guilty to charges that he stole a drawing by Pablo Picasso from a gallery near Union Square last week.
Lugo, 30, of Hoboken, N.J., is accused of walking into the Weinstein Gallery at 383 Geary St. near Union Square on July 5, taking a pencil-on-paper drawing titled “Tete de Femme” valued at about $275,000, and fleeing in a waiting taxicab.
He was arrested the next day after police used surveillance footage and eyewitness accounts to track him to a hotel in San Francisco, and then to an apartment in Napa where he was staying with friends.
The drawing was in good condition but had been taken out of its frame, and it appeared that Lugo was planning to have it shipped somewhere, police said.
Lugo pleaded not guilty in San Francisco Superior Court this morning to grand theft and second-degree burglary charges, and defense attorney Douglas Horngrad also sought a reduction in the $5 million bail currently set for him.
Horngrad said that the media had “overhyped” his client’s case, and that much more violent crimes do not carry such high bail.
“There are murder cases in this county where bail is set at $5 million,” he said.
Assistant District Attorney Lindsey Chow said the bail was appropriate as Lugo’s crime had spanned multiple counties.
Along with being discovered in the Napa apartment with the drawing in his possession, a recent raid of Lugo’s home in Hoboken found other stolen artwork, including another Picasso piece stolen from a Manhattan hotel.
In all, $500,000 in stolen artwork was discovered in Lugo’s apartment, according to Hoboken police.
Judge Samuel Feng denied the motion for reduced bail, and said that he worried about the safety of property owners in San Francisco.
“We are dealing with a substantial amount of value of art,” Feng said.
He also ordered that Lugo’s passport be surrendered.
Lugo will return to court on Aug. 23 to set a date for the preliminary hearing in the case.
Scott Morris, Bay City News