June 7 (Bloomberg) -- Stuart Ross, accused of trying to extort money from his son-in-law, Blackstone Group LP Senior Managing Director David Blitzer, told a New York state judge he wants to represent himself at his trial.
Ross was indicted for grand larceny and attempted grand larceny in 2008 with co-defendant Stuart Jackson, his former lawyer. Both pleaded not guilty. State Supreme Court Justice Bonnie Wittner, who held Ross without bail last month, said he can act as his own attorney and that he can be released if he posts a $200,000 bond.
Ross, 74, of Aventura, Florida, is the father of Allison Blitzer, David Blitzer’s wife. He and Jackson threatened to ruin David Blitzer’s life unless he paid them as much as $11 million, according to Manhattan prosecutors.
“We’re going to go forward with the trial,” Wittner told Ross today, though she backed off a July 26 trial date she scheduled earlier. “You want to represent yourself. I know you’re a lawyer. You know the risks.”
Ross, 74, has been jailed in New York since May 26 when he was extradited from Florida. Wittner issued a warrant for him after he failed to appear at an earlier court date. Matthew Myers, the lawyer who has represented Ross in the case, said he had been hospitalized.
Outside the courtroom, Myers said he didn’t believe that Ross, who made millions when he brought the Smurfs cartoon characters to America, had the money to make bail. “He made some bad investments,” Myers said.
Ross was charged in 2008 after demanding that Blitzer give him large sums of money or he would harass him over the telephone and make accusations to his supervisors at Blackstone, law enforcement and the media, evidence presented to a grand jury showed, Wittner wrote in court papers.
“These threats escalated to a point where Ross, through his attorney, defendant Jackson, told Blitzer’s attorney, Roger Stavis, that for $5.5 million, Ross would not try to visit his daughter or grandchildren and would stop harassing Blitzer and contacting his business,” the judge wrote.
Jackson mentioned “settlement numbers” of $5.5 million to $11 million to Stavis, according to court papers filed by Jackson’s attorneys, Levitt & Kaizer.
An agreement was ultimately obtained for Blitzer to pay $250,000 to $400,000 to Ross to cease the contact, Wittner said. At an Aug. 21, 2008, meeting in New York, Blitzer paid Jackson and Ross $50,000 as a down payment.
The meeting was a recorded “sting,” according to Jackson’s court papers. Nicholas G. Kaizer, a lawyer for Jackson, declined to comment.
Ross claims the money was part of a business deal, not extortion, according to Myers.
Ross and his lawyer told the judge today he hadn’t been in court for appearances this year because he had a stent placed in his heart, underwent chemotherapy for cancer, and was in alcohol rehabilitation.
“I have leukemia,” Ross told the judge. “That is a matter of fact. Almost every month I was in the hospital.”
Ross, who is on the verge of a divorce from his wife, according to his lawyer, has no New York address.
The parties are due back in court June 28 to pick a trial date.
Stavis declined to comment, as did Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. Peter Rose, a spokesman for New York-based Blackstone, also declined to comment.
Blackstone, founded by Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman, is a global investment and advisory firm. Blitzer is a senior managing director in the private-equity group, according to the firm’s website.
The cases are People v. Ross, 08-062712, and People v. Jackson, 08-062713, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).
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