New Jersey wine merchant ‘gobsmacked’ by Picasso art theft suspect 

Robert Lesnick, loss prevention manager for a New Jersey fine wine store, told The San Francisco Examiner Thursday he was “gobsmacked” to learn that Mark Lugo was arrested last week for the brazen theft of a Picasso drawing from a Union Square art gallery.

“I was having my morning coffee reading the paper and almost spit it out,” Lesnick said.

Less than two months ago, Lesnick had reported Lugo to police, suspecting him of shoplifting $6,000 worth of vino from Gary’s Wine & Marketplace in Wayne, NJ. The wine store is well-known on the East Coast for its top wines. On Thursday, Bravo TV was filming for “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” at the shop, Lesnick said.

Lesnick’s complaint to authorities accused Lugo, 30, of Hoboken, NJ, of stealing three bottles of the "very rare" 2006 Chateau Petrus Pomerol, which cost $2,000 apiece. The thefts happened on two separate occasions, Lesnick said, and each time Lugo was caught on video wearing the same clothing.

Lugo has a warrant for his arrest for failing to show up to a June 9 court hearing in Wayne on the allegations.

Lugo, who worked as a sommelier at high-end Manhattan restaurant BLT Fish, is accused of swiping the wine on April 25 and April 29. In the first heist,  Lugo twice reached into a lower bin in the store to steal the bottles, Lesnick said in his complaint to authorities.

Lesnick believes the suspect slipped one of the $2,000 bottles in the inner pocket of his sports jacket.

The store’s security cameras caught Lugo leaving the store.

The store manager confronted Lugo the third time he came to the store, on May 23.

Lugo identified himself as Michael Hugo.

"He stated that he did not know anything about it and I suggested he come back in the store and view some video," Lesnick said. "He suggested we clear this up and call the police, which I agreed to do. As I was calling he stated, 'I don't want any part of this...I'm leaving.'"

On Friday, Lugo is expected to plead not guilty to stealing the Picasso’s “Tête de Femme” drawing valued at $275,000 from the Weinstein Gallery at Powell and Geary streets. The day of the heist, Lugo was staying in the posh Hotel Palomar in downtown San Francisco.

In a jailhouse interview with The San Francisco Examiner on Friday, Lugo said the theft of the Picasso drawing, which was reported by news agencies worldwide, was "blown out of proportion."

Lugo’s attorney, Douglas Horngrad, also downplayed the case, saying "nobody died, and nobody was assaulted."

After hearing about the alleged wine thefts, Horngrad said Thursday he is looking into whether his client suffers any psychiatric issues.

Lugo is being held on $5 million bail.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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