- Associated Press - Thursday, August 12, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - A now-broke businessman who once played a role in the Smurfs cartoon empire admitted Thursday he threatened to destroy his son-in-law’s stature in high finance as part of a $11 million shakedown plot.

Stuart R. Ross pleaded guilty to attempted grand larceny, acknowledging he demanded $5.5 million to end a strange campaign of threats to ruin son-in-law David S. Blitzer’s career as a senior managing director of The Blackstone Group LP, an asset management and financial services firm. Ross, 73, also admitted saying he’d give up any rights to see his grandchildren for another $5.5 million.

“That’s true,” Ross, of Aventura, Fla., told a Manhattan judge.

Ross, a non-practicing lawyer who once tangled with Donald Trump over proceeds from a Trump-themed board game, owned certain rights to the Smurfs years ago, according to civil court papers filed by Blitzer and Ross. Ross bought North American rights to the sky-blue, mushroom-dwelling, gnome-like characters after seeing them in their native Belgium in 1976, his website said.

The Smurfs shot to cartoon stardom in a 1980s TV series made by the animation powerhouse Hanna-Barbera Productions. Representatives didn’t immediately return telephone calls about Ross on Thursday.

Ross went on to pursue other entertainment ventures, including an unsuccessful lawsuit in which he claimed he had a contract to develop “Trump _ the Game” and was due about $215,000 in royalties from the board game. A jury sided with Trump, who denied having a contract with Ross.

Over the years, Ross went through the money he had made and began asking Blitzer to stake him in new businesses, according to a lawsuit Blitzer filed against him in 2008.

Tens of thousands of dollars later, Blitzer said enough was enough, and Ross began besieging him with phone calls and e-mails claiming he would reveal unidentified, career-ending secrets if he didn’t get more money, according to prosecutors and the ongoing lawsuit.

Ross told Blitzer his “world is about to implode” and warned: “You will face the consequences of me being on your case every day of your life,” the lawsuit says. At times, Ross called Blitzer’s bosses, it says.

Finally, Ross offered through a fellow lawyer, Stuart A. Jackson, to stop it all _ and stay away from the grandchildren he had never previously expressed interest in meeting _ for a total of $11 million, prosecutors said.

Blitzer then contacted prosecutors and set up a meeting, which led to Ross‘ and Jackson’s arrests. Jackson, 81, has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court Monday.

Ross, whose defense attorney has said he suffers from leukemia and a welter of other health problems, is expected to get probation. His sentencing is set for Oct. 5.

Meanwhile, the Smurfs marked their 50th anniversary in Belgium in 2008.