|Born||1963/1964 (age 57–58)|
San Francisco, CA
|Other names||"Lucky Luke"|
|Occupation||Commercial real estate investor and developer.|
|Known for||Commercial real estate investment in San Francisco.|
|Criminal charge(s)||Tax evasion, mail fraud|
Luke Dominic Brugnara (born 1963/1964) is an American commercial real estate investor and developer. Brugnara became known for purchasing real estate in downtown San Francisco during the 1990s. In 2015, he was convicted of defrauding an art dealer and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Brugnara was born in the Sunset District of San Francisco, the son of a "juvenile hall manager". He went to school at St. Ignatius College Preparatory, a private preparatory Jesuit school. Brugnara was a competitive flycaster during his teenage years and set several national accuracy flycasting records in the American Casting Association which still stand today. Brugnara graduated from San Diego State University in 1987.
Real estate career
Brugnara started his real estate career in San Francisco in 1993 by buying a note for $1.5M for the Kress Building at 939 Market Street, foreclosing on the note, and then borrowing $3M against the property. Brugnara proceeded to buy and sell a series of office buildings in San Francisco. In 1997, he owned 500,000 square feet of office space in downtown San Francisco. At one time or another, his portfolio included 814 Mission Street, the Bulletin Building, the Westinghouse Electric Building, 735 Market Street, the Royal Insurance Building, 201 Sansome Street, the Pacific Bank Building, the Medico-Dental Building, and 351 California Street. Brugnara tried unsuccessfully to purchase the Chevron Building in 1994.
Brugnara first became involved in Las Vegas real estate in 1999, when he attempted to buy the Desert Inn for $270 million, but lost out to an all-cash offer from Sun International and Steve Wynn. In November 1999, he bought the Silver City Casino and the Las Vegas Shopping Plaza on the Las Vegas Strip for $40 million, with plans to replace it with a larger casino and hotel, but converted the property into a shopping center in 2004 after the Nevada Gaming Commission denied him a gambling license in 2001. In denying the license, the Gaming Commission had cited poor financial recordkeeping, claims that Brugnara had failed to file tax returns, conflicts with San Francisco regulators, and allegations that Brugnara had made death threats. In response, Brugnara stated that the Nevada Gaming Commissioners were "a bunch of wind-up dolls" representing Las Vegas incumbents, and threatened to file suit, but eventually decided not to do so, preferring to re-apply and address the Gaming Commission's concerns. In 2006–2007, Brugnara leased his 20,000+ sq ft, 11-bedroom Las Vegas mansion to Michael Jackson for over $1 million for six months. In January 2010, he submitted a $170 million bid to purchase the bankrupt Fontainebleau project on the Las Vegas Strip, but his bid was rejected for failing to include the required $1 million deposit and evidence of the ability to obtain the necessary financing.
Health code violations
In 1998, Brugnara was sued by the SF City Attorney for improper disposal of medical waste at his Medico-Dental Building. In 2000, the San Francisco Superior Court decided against Brugnara, and imposed a $1 million penalty.
In 2010, Brugnara pled guilty to charges of tax evasion related to the sale of $45 million in commercial property and violations of the Endangered Species Act for blocking an opening in a private dam to prevent trout migration. He was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison on the tax charges. Brugnara's later request to withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial was denied by the trial judge, and the decision was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011. Brugnara was released from prison in 2012.
In May 2014, Brugnara was charged with mail fraud for refusing to pay for $11 million in art delivered to his Sea Cliff estate. While awaiting trial on these charges, Brugnara was furloughed into the custody of his attorney, and escaped from the San Francisco federal courthouse. He was recaptured a week later in Los Gatos, California. Brugnara represented himself in the trial, which was tried before Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California. By the end of the trial Judge Alsup had sentenced Brugnara to 471 days in prison for contempt due to Brugnara's conduct during the trial, including routinely ignoring Judge Alsup's evidentiary and procedural rulings, yelling at witnesses, throwing tantrums, and insulting the government's attorneys, including calling U.S. District Attorney Robin Harris a "Nazi" in front of the jury. Brugnara was convicted on six of the nine counts he faced, and sentenced to seven years in prison. On May 11, 2017 the Appeals Court affirmed all the convictions, rejecting Brugnara's argument that his decision to represent himself denied him a fair trial. The court also rejected Brugnara's claim that the art was fake and hence his refusal to pay or return it didn't constitute fraud, ruling that Brugnara had not taken the steps necessary to support his claim that the delivered art was fake, and, even if it were, his refusal to return the art (claiming that it was a gift) still showed evidence of an intent to defraud.
Personal life and other investments
After becoming acquainted with his future wife in college, they married in the 1990s and have four children. Prior to his incarceration, Brugnara split residence between Las Vegas and a San Francisco Sea Cliff villa purchased from comedian Cheech Marin. Brugnara is the nephew of former San Francisco Police Chief Anthony "Tony" Ribera. In 2005, he offered to purchase the shuttered St. Brigid Church in San Francisco for $3 million to prevent its sale to the Academy of Art University. The offer was not accepted, and the sale to the Academy of Art University went through. In 2008, Brugnara claimed water rights associated with property he owned near Gilroy, California, including a reservoir which he stated could retain 2,000 acre-feet. In 2008 Brugnara was in negotiations to supply the city of Gilroy their domestic water supply. In 2003, Brugnara owned Christ Carrying the Cross, which he attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, although the attribution remains disputed.
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- Bone, Chris (June 10, 2008). "Searching for Cheaper Water". Gilroy. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
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