Luke Brugnara Makes His Point

All the city's most bombastic commercial landlord wants is a San Francisco-themed casino in Las Vegas ... or absolute misery for anyone who gets in his way

Although Reilly eventually lost the case over the Chronicle purchase, the testimony elicited during trial subjected Hearst to extreme humiliation, revealing, among other things, that then-Examiner Publisher Timothy White offered to "horse-trade" favorable editorial coverage of Mayor Willie Brown, if Brown would support, or at least not oppose, Hearst's purchase of the much larger Chronicle.

Brugnara cannot help giggling about the result of Reilly's lawsuit -- especially a twist in which Hearst agreed to pay Reilly's multimillion-dollar legal fees if he agreed not to appeal the decision in the case. "Clint Reilly put up millions just to teach the papers a lesson," he says with evident glee. "He ruined that guy White's career, and he even got paid all the money he fronted."

Which brings us back to Las Vegas' gaming industry, where recent mergers between gaming industry superpowers, as well as what some see as obstacles to new competitors, might just make the industry vulnerable to an antitrust lawsuit. That's why Brugnara is "consulting" with Alioto at the moment.

"Las Vegas as a market has substantially changed," says Alioto, referring to the city's recent shift toward attracting families, as well as to massive mergers like the one between the MGM and Mirage corporations, both of which own Strip casinos. "We have to make sure the competitive spirit is not artificially impinged in any way."

Brugnara is less diplomatic: "You've got to pay, like, 2 to 3 million bucks up front," he says, giggling. "And then he [Alioto] just goes and literally crucifies the opposition. He literally pulls out the rusty nails and the big, heavy hammer and just puts them up on the cross.

"And, you know, whether Joe Alioto wins or he doesn't win, you've got a bloody mess as a result. Will that happen? Knowing me -- probably."

Alioto describes his approach much differently.

"I do not do anything other than follow the law," he says. "I don't use the law for any purpose other than what it was meant [for], and I very much believe in the spirit of competition. ... I don't go in to bloody anybody or to hurt anybody. I have no other motives, and I condone no other motives."

"When I'm in the ring," he adds, "I fight like crazy. But there's a big difference between playing fair, playing tough, and getting personal. I have no personal animosity toward anybody."

"That's my mountain, that's my mountain, that's my mountain, and that's my mountain," says Luke Brugnara, pointing at each peak from behind the wheel of his Mercedes S500 as he rolls down a dirt road into his 200-acre wilderness escape. "This is the best piece of land in the Bay Area."

The "parcel," as Brugnara calls it, is indeed a marvel, a huge swath of untouched wilderness near Gilroy loaded with crystal-clear creeks and bass-filled ponds and stunning valley vistas and ancient oak trees. Brugnara roams this idyllic paradise with childlike exuberance. The sweat pours off his brow as he stalks around the property with the urgency of a spoiled 9-year-old showing off a prized toy. He especially relishes giving lectures about the things he finds, such as grindstones used by the Ohlone tribe, or an 8-inch feces sample, which, he suggests while probing it with a twig, was left by a mountain lion. "It's fresh," he says, noting that there have been 71 fatal mountain lion attacks in California. "But they've never attacked two men together."

The very splendor of the property creates an interesting juxtaposition: a man who lashes out against everything he cannot control, and raw nature, which is utterly uncontrollable, even by Luke Brugnara. Exhibit No. 1: The Case of the Missing Antlers.

There is little question that, although Brugnara has never seen it, a mountain lion lives on or around this 200-acre tract, and that the lion is Brugnara's favorite aspect of the property. In fact, the first stop on a recent tour of the land is in a creek bed, near what Brugnara says is a 500-year-old oak, where sits the reeking, rotting carcass of what once was a very large buck. Based on the size of the deer and its broken neck, Brugnara figures it must have been killed by his mountain lion.

Brugnara first spotted the kill during his last visit here, three weeks ago; he's apparently been anticipating showing it off to others ever since. But the carcass -- which has only hair left on its ribs, and just a trace of rancid flesh around its ankles -- has a problem.

"Who took my fucking head?"

Brugnara is suddenly intensely distraught. He lopes frantically around the creek bed, looking for footprints or tire tracks, anything that would tell him who or what took his deer head. He finds nothing. Marching up to a meadow that oversees a glass-still pond that looks like a mirror against the cloudless blue sky, Brugnara continues his rampage. From a cell phone, he calls his brother-in-law, whom he pays to watch over the 200-acre property -- and to watch over it in such detail, apparently, that no deer carcass could go unnoticed.

"It's Luke," he says urgently into the phone. "Tell him it's Luke. Just tell him it's Luke. Tell him it's Luke!" There's a brief pause as the call gets transferred. When the conversation resumes, it's one-sided.

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