Picasso thief Mark Lugo pleads guilty, faces more charges in New York 

The unemployed New Jersey sommelier who brazenly stole a Pablo Picasso sketch from a Union Square art gallery in July will be extradited to New York late next month to face charges that he swiped more pricey artworks from Manhattan hotels and galleries.

Click on the photo at right to see the stolen Pablo Picasso sketch.

Mark Lugo, 31, pleaded guilty in San Francisco Superior Court Thursday to one count of grand theft in connection to the July 5 heist from the Weinstein Gallery on Geary Street.

Lugo, known as the Thomas Crown of thieves for his fine taste in art and wine, struck a plea deal with prosecutors that garnered a 16-month state prison sentence. With credit for time served, he will be released from custody and placed on mandatory supervised probation on Nov. 21, the date of his sentencing.

However, within five days he will immediately be extradited to New York, where he has been indicted, according to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office declined to reveal what charges he will face.

Lugo, who has worked at top-tier Manhattan restaurants, was looking for a job when he arrived in San Francisco last summer, according to multiple sources.

Surveillance video at Union Square eatery Lefty O’Doul’s caught Lugo strolling down Geary Street with the pricey Picasso sketch tucked under his arm. He had simply taken the drawing from the gallery’s wall and walked out with it in broad daylight, San Francisco police said.

Lugo fled in a cab, which dropped him off at his hotel – the posh Hotel Palomar on Fourth Street. San Francisco cops arrested him the next day in Napa, where he was visiting friends. He was in possession of the drawing, called “Tête de Femme.”

The undamaged sketch is valued at more than $200,000, according to the gallery.

The news of Lugo’s capture in San Francisco caught the interest of galleries and hotels in Manhattan, where surveillance video had also allegedly captured Lugo in the act. A subsequent police raid at his New Jersey apartment turned up 11 pieces of stolen art.

New Jersey police said Lugo did not appear to be selling the art, but hosting his own private gallery. The pieces were hung on the walls and “laying about” his apartment.

Lugo also has pending charges in New Jersey for allegedly shoplifting three bottles of wine in April worth $2,000 apiece.

Lugo’s attorney Douglas Horngrad described his client’s art thievery Thursday as a “psychiatric episode.” Lugo had no criminal history prior to the alleged art thefts, which occurred within a month-long period, Horngrad said.

District Attorney George Gascon praised police and merchants Thursday for collaborating in a way that led to Lugo’s arrest and the sketch’s recovery in short time.

Surveillance video provided by Lefty O’Doul’s and Hotel Palomar were key to the arrest, along with statements offered by Lugo’s cabdriver, Gascon said.

Rowland Weinstein, owner of the Weinstein Gallery, said Thursday the value of the stolen Picasso, which he purchased at an auction for $125,000, will likely to increase due to the publicity of the theft.

Since the theft, Weinstein said he’s increased security at his gallery, adding a security guard and surveillance cameras. Weinstein said the recovered Picasso will return to the gallery after it is evaluated for any damage.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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