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Lugo's Hoboken Apartment: 'Like He was Putting On His Own Art Show'

New York City galleries and hotels find about $500,000 worth of their work in S.F. Picasso-theft suspect's home

In the month of June, Mark Lugo seems to have gone on a bit of an art shopping spree — but left his wallet, and perhaps his socks, at home.

A police raid on his Hoboken apartment in the early hours of Tuesday unearthed a trove of art worth up to half a million dollars. Eleven works -- five from New York City galleries and six from hotels -- were recovered from Lugo’s apartment. 

Police in New Jersey and New York contacted the San Francisco Police Department after officers arrested Lugo on July 6th for stealing a Picasso sketch valued at $275,000 from the Weinstein Gallery. San Francisco police tracked down Lugo with the help of surveillance footage from a bar near the gallery that showed a casually-dressed man holding a framed picture walking down Geary Street on July 4th.

“Our major case unit did some investigating, and they saw that an individual by the name of Lugo was arrested in San Francisco,” said NYPD spokesman Lt. John Grimpel. “We contacted San Francisco detectives and information gathered led to Mark Lugo as a possible suspect.”

Lugo’s tastes ranged from the modern to the contemporary. Among the works found in his home were a Picasso etching, a Jean-Michel Basquiat piece and a Fernand Leger, valued around $350,000, from New York’s tony Carlyle Hotel.

All of the works were reported stolen in a one-month period beginning June 6. Police found a Richard Pugliese painting from the Harris Gallery, five small Mie Yim drawings from the Chambers Hotel, a Nara Yoshitomo from the Opera Gallery, a Jean-Michel Basquiat photo from the Scot Foreman Gallery, the Leger sketch from the Carlyle Hotel, a Malick Sidibe photograph from the Jack Shainman Gallery and another Pablo Picasso sketch from the William Bennett Gallery.

For William Ledford, owner of the William Bennet Gallery in Manhattan, there was nothing about Lugo’s demeanor or appearance that would have tipped his staff off to the theft — and nothing in their security tapes to shed light on the gallery’s June 27 loss. In fact, Lugo happened to take a Picasso, made in 1933 and valued around $28,000, at an incredibly opportune time: the gallery was re-framing all of the Picassos in its two-story location.

“We frequently have pieces that are off the wall to be photographed or reframed. No one thought anything of it,” Ledford said, “On this particular Monday, the fact that it’s off the wall — we assumed our framer was working on it.”

The next morning, though, his staff discovered the loss. “Lo and behold, one person thought it was there, another person thought it was here, it finally dawned on us that it was missing,” he said, noting that this was the gallery’s first theft.

A former employee happened to be in the neighborhood when the police were investigating the missing Picasso, and two days later, he sent the gallery a link to a story about a Picasso gone missing in S.F.

“We just made bad jokes about it,” remembered Ledford. “Only two days later, they caught this guy. At the bottom of the article, I saw that it turned out this guy was from Hoboken.” Ledford contacted the police officer working on his case, who had already been apprised of the West Coast crime.

According to Ledford, the scene at Lugo’s house did not indicate that the erstwhile sommelier was a master art thief. “When the detective called me at 6:45 a.m., I asked, ‘was this guy stealing to resell?’ He said, ‘well it looked like he was putting on his own art show.’ He had no intention to sell.”

Lugo has not been charged in the New York cases. He will be arraigned in San Francisco Friday on three felony counts: commercial burglary, grand theft of personal property and possession of stolen property.

Earlier this week, his attorney, Douglas Horngrad, said Lugo will plead not guilty.

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