"Tete de Femme," a 1965 drawing by Pablo Picasso that was stolen July 5, 2011, from the Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco.
SAN FRANCISCO -- A New Jersey man who has worked in high-end restaurants in New York City flew to San Francisco on the Fourth of July, walked into a Union Square gallery the next day and stole a Pablo Picasso pencil drawing from the wall, police said Thursday in announcing his arrest.
Mark Lugo, 30, who lives in Hoboken, N.J., had Picasso's "Tête de Femme (Head of a Woman)" ready for shipment when San Francisco police arrested him at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at an apartment complex in Napa, where he was visiting friends, police said.
The 1965 sketch by the Spanish artist was in Lugo's room there, missing the frame that had held it at the Weinstein Gallery on Geary Street but otherwise undamaged, Police Chief Greg Suhr said.
Police believe Lugo was working alone and had planned to ship the artwork, which the gallery was selling for more than $200,000, to an unknown party. In the meantime, said police Lt. Ed Santos, "he was enjoying an evening with friends."
His Napa friends, whom Lugo knew from New York, were unaware of the alleged scheme and have not been arrested, police said.
Just in time
"He had it very nicely and professionally boxed up," said Rowland Weinstein, who owns the gallery where the piece was stolen and viewed it Thursday. "If the police had waited just another day, it would have been in a FedEx box somewhere."
Lugo's arrest capped a series of events that began at about 11:40 a.m. Tuesday, when a man who witnesses noticed was wearing loafers but no socks walked into the gallery at 383 Geary St., lifted the pencil drawing from the wall and walked out.
The gallery had no security camera, but Lefty O'Doul's restaurant down the street did. Its footage showed a man in a dark jacket, light-colored slacks, loafers and no socks walking west on Geary with a framed artwork under his left arm, partly obscured by a newspaper. On Thursday, police said the man was Lugo.
How suspect got away
Police said Lugo got away by hopping into a cab that took him to the Hotel Palomar near Fourth and Market streets in San Francisco, where he had been staying. Investigators found the cabbie, and from there tracked Lugo to the hotel and to Napa, although they would not say how they followed the trail.
Police said Lugo had not talked to them and that they did not know what his alleged plans for the Picasso drawing ultimately were. Weinstein said he did not know the theft suspect.
Lugo does not appear to have a criminal history besides a minor alcohol-related arrest, authorities said. He flew into San Francisco on the Fourth of July, they said, and checked into the high-end Palomar.
Lugo is no stranger to such surroundings. He has worked as a wine steward at BLT Fish, an upscale seafood restaurant in New York City's Flatiron District. Before that, he worked for a year as a dining room expediter and kitchen server at Per Se, the East Coast version of Thomas Keller's Napa Valley restaurant, the French Laundry, a spokesman there said.
A manager at BLT Fish confirmed Lugo's employment, but declined to say how long he had worked there or whether he was still at the restaurant.
"We can assume he has good taste, and how he was going to finance that good taste, perhaps, was based upon his success in obtaining a valuable piece of art," said Capt. Stephen Tacchini, commander of Central Station, whose officers tracked Lugo down. "Now, his accommodations are certainly not on par with the Palomar."
$5 million bail
Lugo was booked on suspicion of burglary, theft, possession of stolen property and drug possession. Police said they were analyzing the substance to determine exactly what type of drug it was.
Lugo's bail was set at $5 million. He declined a request for a jailhouse interview.
Weinstein said it was "just a fluke" that the thief had been able to make off with the drawing.
The gallery hangs its artwork using two hooks, one on the bottom and one on top of the frame, so that if someone tries to pull a piece down, the top hook tugs back. However, the top hook that held the Picasso sketch was loose, and it came out when the thief yanked the drawing from the wall, Weinstein said.
Weinstein says he tries to make his gallery accessible to the public, envisioning it as a kind of free museum on the corner of Union Square. Now, he's planning to install surveillance cameras, have more employees on the floor and change the way the art is hung.
Weinstein said his reaction to the recovery of the Picasso piece was one of "tears. Just tears."
The district attorney's office will keep the sketch as evidence for a week or so, but when he gets it back, Weinstein said he may not put it up for sale.
"I might keep it in the gallery, though much more safely in the gallery, and well-protected," he said. "It feels like a piece of the community now."
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This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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