Police say Picasso theft was part of luxury spree

San Francisco: A string of art heists at New York galleries and hotels went unsolved until an arrest in the theft of a Picasso drawing in San Francisco led authorities to a treasure trove inside a nondescript New Jersey apartment.

Police believe Mark Lugo is responsible for at least eight thefts since June totalling nearly USD 700,000 worth of artwork, including a USD 350,000 drawing by French artist Fernand Leger.

Pieces from seven of those thefts were recovered during a police raid of Lugo`s Hoboken, New Jersey, home, as he awaited arraignment in the eighth case in San Francisco.

Lugo, 30, pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of grand theft, burglary and possession of stolen property for allegedly stealing the 1965 Picasso drawing called "Tete de Femme (Head of a Woman)."

Workers at the Weinstein Gallery reported that a young man brazenly snatched the piece, worth more than USD 200,000, from the wall on July 5 and casually walked away. Surveillance video from a nearby restaurant showed a man matching Lugo`s description strolling by with the framed drawing tucked under his arm.

The taking of another Picasso from the William Bennett Gallery in Manhattan`s Soho district went similarly.

The thief came into the gallery during business hours on June 27, lifted the piece off the wall and walked out with a rare print of the etching "Sculptor and Two Heads" worth about USD 30,000, said William Ledford, managing partner of the gallery.

The next day, it happened at the posh Carlyle hotel on the city`s Upper East Side. The 1917 Leger piece, "Composition with Mechanical Elements," disappeared from a hallway in the hotel lobby around 3 am (local time) on June 28, according to Christina Warner, assistant director of the Helly Nahmad Gallery, which had loaned the drawing to the hotel.

Police who raided his apartment said the stolen works were prominently displayed around his home and may not have been meant for sale.


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