Andy Warhol’s former bodyguard squirreled away a stolen painting of Elizabeth Taylor by the pop-art master for more than 30 years — but was caught red-handed when he recently tried to sell it, according to a new lawsuit that reads like a heist thriller.
“Agusto Bugarin is a patient thief, but a thief nonetheless,” begins the suit filed by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in Manhattan on Friday. The charitable foundation is the sole owner of Warhol’s inventory of work.
In 1987 when the Pop art master died, foundation reps asked Bugarin, who started working for Warhol in the 1980s, to hand over all his employer’s works in his possession.
Bugarin only disclosed eight piece s– leaving out the 42.5-inch by 44.25 inch silkscreen titled “Liz” — then worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to court papers.
The foundation believes Bugarin, now 60, hid the 1964 painting for decades until everyone who could discredit the story of how he acquired it died.
Then Bugarin tried to sell the piece through Taglialatella Galleries in Manhattan this year.
The Jersey City resident claimed Warhol gave him the piece as a gift after he renovated an apartment for his new lover, Jon Gould, in 1984.
“Bugarin claims Warhol asked him to be discrete about this renovation because Warhol had recently ended a relationship with Jed Johnson and begun a relationship with Gould and did not want this relationship widely known,” the foundation recounts in court papers.
But the suit calls the story a complete fabrication because Gould moved into one of Warhol’s New York homes years earlier.
“There is no indication that Warhol did or would have given his bodyguard a painting valued at the time in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — several multiples of Bugarin’s annual salary,” the Manhattan Supreme Court filing says.
Another “Liz” painting was recently up for auction and expected to fetch $20 million to $30 million.
Warhol’s records even include a picture of the 1964 “Liz” with a note that it was stolen or missing, the foundation says in court papers.
When confronted, Bugarin refused to return the piece and his art dealer even allegedly told the gallery to sell it as quickly as possible.
In addition, when Warhol died, Bugarin made a half-hearted attempt to claim four of the eight pieces in his possession were also gifted to him, but quickly handed the works over when the foundation accused him of forging the inscriptions, the suit says.
The foundation, which supports the visual arts, is suing to get the piece back.
A rep for the gallery did not comment.
Bugarin did not immediately return a message.