After being convicted on counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, false declarations in court, escape, and contempt earlier this year in an art-fraud court case, Californian real estate developer Luke Brugnara is claiming that he was sold fakes, Courthouse News reported today.
In February, Brugnara went to court after failing to pay the dealer Rose Long for a group of artworks valued at $11 million—a drawing by Joan Miró, a bronze Edgar Degas statue, a painting by George Luks, etchings by Pablo Picasso, and 16 paintings by Willem de Kooning. After Long pursued payment for the works, which were delivered to Brugnara’s Sea Cliff estate, in San Francisco, in April 2014, Brugnara said they were a “gift” to him. (When Long asked for money upfront, Brugnara refused—a previous deal involving a Renoir work and a $500,000 Picasso work went smoothly.) The case went to court, but, in February, Brugnara escaped the jail where he was being held. The FBI proceeded to place him on the Most Wanted list. Once he was apprehended, the court case finished and Brugnara, now facing another charge for escape, lost.
Today, Dena Young, a lawyer for Brugnara, said that an expert reviewed the de Kooning works and had “substantial questions regarding authenticity and condition.” There were differences between the Abstract Expressionist’s technique and the work on these paintings, the expert said. Young also claimed that the works’ provenance was unclear. The de Kooning works are valued at a collected $7.3 million and will be used as evidence in the court hearing in September.
Brugnara has a history of legal trouble. In 1998, the San Francisco City Attorney sued Brugnara for building code violations; Brugnara lost and paid $1 million in fines. Three years later, Brugnara was luckier—U.S. tax attorneys claimed that Brugnara owed $11 million in taxes between 1993 and 1997, but, in 2008, this was found to be a false charge. Between 2008 and 2010, Brugnara continued to face various tax evasion and trout-poaching charges. (Brugnara owns the rights to 25,000 acres of water in California and a 2,000-square-foot dam and reservoir.)
This new case is not the only time the authenticity of a work in Brugnara’s art collection has been called into question. In 2003, Brugnara bought a painting called Christ Carrying the Cross for $500,000 in a private sale. Brugnara seemed fairly sure it was a Leonardo da Vinci. “I believe this is 100% by Da Vinci. If somebody can tell me this isn’t a Da Vinci, fine,” he told Forbes. “But nobody’s told me that yet.”