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Brugnara says he was singled out for investigation because his uncle, former Police Chief Tony Ribera, is a political adversary of Mayor Willie Brown. (He also speculates that his tendencies to tell reporters exactly what he thinks of city power figures doesn't help him, either.) Brugnara, who wound up being assessed a $1 million fine, is unrepentant: "The last thing I told the judge was that I would do nothing differently."
In any event, Brugnara's management problems weren't limited to those alleged by the City Attorney's Office. The local janitors' union awarded him its "Top Trash" award in 1997, recognizing him as being the worst employer to work for in the city. (Brugnara earned this honor by firing all the unionized janitors at the Pacific Bank Building after he purchased it.)
Last year, he was slapped with a restraining order after allegedly threatening a court-appointed receiver. According to court documents, Gregory Sterling was appointed as a receiver after Brugnara allegedly defaulted on a loan against one of his buildings; among Sterling's duties was the collection of rent at two of Brugnara's buildings. He was to send what he collected on to Merrill Lynch Mortgage Capital Inc., which had loaned Brugnara money.
While the two men were leaving the courtroom after the receiver's appointment, Sterling introduced himself to Brugnara, who responded with a direct question: "Do you know what it's like to get your ass kicked?" According to court testimony, a Brugnara employee also told many tenants in the building that if they paid the receiver rather than Brugnara, there would be consequences. Brugnara even posted signs in his buildings, demanding that tenants not pay Sterling, who was labeled a "self-described receiver" -- even though Brugnara had been in the courtroom when Sterling was appointed.
"I have been a professional, court-appointed receiver for twelve years," Sterling stated in court papers. "I have had a book about receiverships published entitled The Receivership Handbook. In the entire scope of my practice, I have never experienced such an overt and deleterious violation of an order."
This isn't even close to the most outrageous action Brugnara has allegedly taken in a courtroom. That distinction is awarded to a death threat he supposedly made to a deputy city attorney during a trial -- that is, a throat-slashing gesture he reputedly made while mouthing the words, "You're dead." Brugnara vigorously denies this, saying: "Do you know how stupid I would have to be to do that?"
He says he was loosening his tie while telling his own attorney their case was dead. He explains that the deputy city attorney in question, Thomas Lakritz, has a speech impediment that, Brugnara says, has embittered him toward people like Brugnara.
Lakritz declined to comment on the incident.
In another vein, Brugnara has also been accused of making a death threat against a former mistress. The threat allegedly occurred after the woman said she planned to show up at his house with a son she said was Brugnara's. Brugnara denies making the threat, calling the incident "a shakedown."
"She stalked me," he says. "It was like that movie Fatal Attraction."
Court documents paint a different picture of the affair, which lasted more than 18 months and culminated with Brugnara's brother obtaining a restraining order against him.
According to Eric Brugnara's declaration, he befriended his brother's mistress and tried to mediate a child-support settlement with Luke. (The child-support claim was subsequently dismissed.) In August of 2001, Luke spotted Eric with the woman, and allegedly threatened Eric with a metal bar. Eric subsequently obtained a restraining order. The brotherly relationship has not improved, if one is to believe a declaration Eric recently filed in court documents. "I would like to be able to listen to the phone message machine where I live without having to hear, "You better be sleeping with one eye open. I'm looking for you. I have already been by twice, and I will find you,'" the declaration says.
Luke shrugs the episode off as "sibling jealousy."
"Basically, it comes down to me having a 40-year-old brother who still lives at home and is jealous of what I've accomplished," he says. "Do I get mad? Yes, and I still feel very strongly about that. But I've never laid a hand on my brother."
Now Brugnara is at something of a crossroads. He recently sold six of his San Francisco buildings to allow him to buy a 200-acre nature reserve in the South Bay, as well as the $31 million piece of Las Vegas' Strip that he hopes to remake as a San Francisco-themed casino. And he uses a major management firm to run his office properties, insulating himself to a degree from any more "harassment" by the San Francisco powers that be.
The way Brugnara describes his current situation is not designed to curry any favor with those powers: "I'm like a lion. They should have killed me when I was a cub, because now I'm too fucking big. I'm too fucking powerful. ... It's like that movie 48 Hours, where Eddie Murphy walks into the redneck bar. And all the rednecks, they look at him like they're gonna kick his ass, right? But then Eddie Murphy pulls out a badge and says, "I'm your worst fucking nightmare: A nigger with a badge.'