A New Jersey man is in custody on suspicion of stealing a Picasso drawing worth more than a quarter-million dollars from a Union Square art gallery earlier this week, police said today. Mark Lugo, 30, of Hoboken N.J., was arrested at about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday after police tracked him to an apartment in Napa, police Chief Greg Suhr said at a news conference at the Hall of Justice this morning.
“This is an unbelievable piece of police work,” Suhr said. At about 11:40 a.m. Tuesday, Lugo allegedly walked into the Weinstein Gallery at 383 Geary St. and took a pencil-on-paper drawing titled “Tete de Femme,” valued at about $275,000, and fled in a waiting taxicab, police said. Police were able to track down the cab and learned that its driver took Lugo to the Hotel Palomar at Market and Fourth streets where he was staying, police Lt. Ed Santos said.
Lugo had flown in from New Jersey on Monday, and was found on Wednesday night at the Napa apartment, where he was with two friends he knew from the East Coast, Santos said. The painting was in good condition but had been taken out of the frame, and it looked like Lugo was preparing to have it shipped somewhere, according to Santos. The friends did not appear to know that Lugo had stolen the drawing and were not arrested, he said.
Police said today that they did not know whether Lugo targeted the gallery and that specific drawing, and said they were not aware of any similar offenses on his criminal record. He was arrested on suspicion of grand theft, burglary, possession of stolen property and drug offenses, Santos said. He said Lugo had narcotics in his possession, but police are awaiting lab results to verify which drug it was.
Lefty O’Doul’s, a restaurant and bar located just down the street from the art gallery, captured video footage of the alleged thief on a surveillance camera outside the building, and police acknowledged today that the footage helped identify Lugo. “Where we have video, we’re going to have a lot of success,” Suhr said. He said he encourages all businesses to install surveillance cameras because they often provide key evidence for police investigations.
The Picasso drawing, which was back in a frame and displayed at today’s news conference, was later carefully placed in a cardboard box by police and taken away to be kept as evidence for the pending criminal court case. Lugo is being held in county jail in lieu of $5 million bail, police said.
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