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Developer pleads guilty to tax evasion charges

January 28, 2010 5:15:04 PM PST
A San Francisco real estate developer pleaded guilty in federal court this week to two sets of criminal charges of evading taxes on $45 million in property sales and poaching trout on property he owns in Gilroy.

Luke Brugnara, 46, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney on Tuesday to four counts of "taking," a legal term for harming or killing, steelhead trout in violation of the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2007.

The trout are federally listed as a threatened species. U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello said Brugnara admitted to preventing the trout from migrating upstream to spawn by blocking an opening in his private dam on Little Arthur Creek on land in Gilroy.

Russoniello said the case is the first time an individual has been federally charged with taking steelhead trout by blocking access to upstream habitat.

Brugnara also admitted to making two false statements to state fish and game wardens during an investigation. He will be sentenced by Chesney on May 5.

Also on Tuesday, Brugnara pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William Alsup to three counts of filing false income tax returns for the years 2000 through 2002 by failing to report capital gains from $45 million in sales of commercial properties.

The properties were located on Post, Market and Mission streets in downtown San Francisco and in Las Vegas.

Brugnara will be sentenced by Alsup on those counts on May 4.

U.S. attorney's office spokesman Jack Gillund said that neither of the guilty pleas included a plea bargain specifying the sentences Brugnara will receive.

The Endangered Species Act violations each carry a maximum penalty of six months in prison, and the false statement counts carry penalties of up to five years in prison.

The false tax return convictions each carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The two judges will consider federal sentencing guidelines in determining the penalties.

A defense attorney for Brugnara was not immediately available for comment.


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