Picasso theft suspect speaks from San Francisco jail 

The New York City sommelier accused of stealing a pricey Pablo Picasso sketch from a Union Square art gallery on Tuesday says he’s stunned by the global media attention his case has garnered.

“This has been completely blown out of proportion,” Mark Lugo exclaimed in a brief jailhouse interview with The San Francisco Examiner on Friday.

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The attractive and well spoken 30-year-old’s experience at high-end restaurants in the Big Apple has some calling him the Thomas Crown of art thieves. His employment resume includes stints at Per Se, Thomas Keller's three-Michelin-star restaurant. He more recently worked as sommelier at BLT Fish.

Lugo, who resides in Hoboken, N.J., said he’s been “in a state of shock” since being arrested for casually swiping artwork valued at $275,000. Lugo declined to discuss the case.

He said he is seeking a high-profile attorney to represent him rather than the public defender.

“I’m looking for a top defense lawyer with experience in cases like this,” Lugo told The San Francisco Examiner.

He’d prefer the attorney to offer pro bono representation, but is willing to negotiate.

Since he's been locked up, Lugo said he hasn’t been able to reach his family or his girlfriend, also an employee for an upscale New York eatery. Their phone numbers were on his cellphone, which has been confiscated, he said.

Lugo is accused of snatching the Picasso sketch “Tête de femme,” valued at $275,000, from the wall of the Weinstein Gallery at Geary and Powell streets late Tuesday morning.

Lugo allegedly strolled into the gallery, plucked the artwork off the wall, then walked less than a half block to a cab parked at the nearby Handlery Hotel, police said.

A media frenzy followed the brazen midday heist. Lugo was tracked down after a cabbie directed police to where Lugo had been dropped off – the posh Hotel Palomar in downtown San Francisco, where he was staying.

Further investigation that included video surveillance evidence from restaurant Lefty O'Doul's, which captured the thief’s getaway, led cops to Napa.

Lugo was arrested while partying with pals at a Napa condo apartment, police said. Police say Lugo agreed to a police search in the condo, where cops say they found the artwork undamaged but without its frame.

Police say Lugo was preparing to ship the artwork to an unknown party.

The Examiner's interview with Lugo took place in a small room in county jail equipped with nothing but a table and chairs. A sheriff's deputy was not in the room. Lugo was unshackled, calm and polite. After the interview ended, the suspect was ordered to re-enter the room after he began to leave with the reporter. He respectfully complied.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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