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Man pleads guilty to Picasso theft at San Francisco gallery
San Francisco police chief Greg Suhr, left, speaks at a news conference as a Picasso drawing is shown in San Francisco. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu.

By: Beth Duff-Brown, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP).- A New Jersey man who walked out of a San Francisco gallery with a pencil sketch by Pablo Picasso worth $275,000 pleaded guilty to grand theft Thursday.

Workers at the Weinstein Gallery said Mark Lugo brazenly snatched the drawing, called "Tete de Femme" (Head of a Woman), from a wall of their gallery on July 5. Lugo then walked down the street and got into a cab with the sketch under his arm.

But quick police work, video surveillance cameras and an alert taxi driver led to his arrest within 24 hours.

When investigators searched Lugo's apartment in Hoboken, N.J., they uncovered a treasure trove of stolen art worth some $430,000.

Lugo, 30, pleaded guilty to grand theft in the San Francisco case. Under terms of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop other charges, including burglary. The deal calls allows for Lugo to be released on his sentencing date, Nov. 21, after getting credit for the time he has already served.

His attorney, Douglas Horngrad, said Lugo would then be extradited to New York to face similar charges in art heists there.

Horngrad said the case had been wildly overblown.

"Now that all the hoopla has died down, he'll serve the time that reflects the conduct," he said. "Nobody was killed, nobody was assaulted; this was not the crime of the century."

Lugo's initial bail of $5 million was "preposterous," Horngrad added.

He also hinted that his client suffered from a mental illness.

"All these things that Mark is alleged to have taken were all taken within a 30-day period, with no behavior like that before, and that suggests that there was some psychiatric episode," the lawyer said.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said the other pieces of stolen works found in Lugo's apartment included another Picasso painting worth $30,000, a Fernand Leger sketch valued at $350,000 and three bottles of Chateau Petrus Pomerol wine worth $6,000.

"This is a person who definitely had a taste for the finer things, and he didn't like to pay for them," Gascon said.

Investigators said Lugo worked at upscale Manhattan restaurants and as a wine steward.

Rowland Weinstein, owner of the San Francisco gallery, talked to reporters Thursday as he stood next to the Picasso and the FedEx box in which they found the sketch ready for shipping.

"I got to see firsthand really extraordinary police work," said Weinstein. "This piece is a love affair of mine."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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