- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - “Spider-Man” star Tobey Maguire and other celebrities have been caught in a web of lawsuits seeking to reclaim more than $4 million won during unlicensed poker matches at upscale Beverly Hills hotels, court records show.

The lawsuits were filed by a bankruptcy trustee attempting to recoup money for investors who were duped in a Ponzi scheme.

The legal actions claim the clandestine Texas Hold `em matches were played between 2006 and 2009, and that card players won hundreds of thousands of dollars from Bradley Ruderman, architect of the Ponzi scheme.

Maguire is being sued for $311,000 plus interest. In all, 22 people have been individually sued to try to recoup money.

Among them was Nick Cassavetes, director of “The Notebook.” The trustee is attempting to recover nearly $73,000 plus interest from the actor-director.

His attorney, Ronald Richards, said Cassavetes engaged in no wrongdoing and may try to settle the case for a reduced amount or fight it on the basis that the money cannot be reclaimed.

The lawsuit cites only one 2007 game in which Cassavetes was involved.

He was sued along with others who received a check from Ruderman. However, the matches weren’t documented, so it was unclear if Ruderman lost the money himself or was paying for another player, Richards said.

“The theory that is being advanced by the trustee is what we call a novel or original theory,” he added.

Maguire’s attorney, Robert Barta, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment but was expected to file a response to the suit later this week.

Also being sued is billionaire businessman Alec Gores, who along with his brother attempted to buy Miramax Films last year. Another defendant is “Welcome Back Kotter” star and poker afficianado Gabe Kaplan, who is being asked to return $62,000, records show.

Gores is being sued for $445,000. In a statement, his attorney Patricia Glaser noted the businessman had not been accused of wrongdoing and she wrote “there was nothing improper about the poker game that is the subject of this lawsuit.”

“Mr. Gores will either successfully resolve the claim against him or successfully defend against the claim,” Glaser wrote.

She also represents Kaplan, records show, but the statement made no mention of him or any other defendants.

Ruderman was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison earlier this year after pleading guilty to two counts of wire fraud, two counts of investment adviser fraud and willful failure to file taxes.

Richards, who also represents others who were sued over their poker winnings, said none of the players faced any criminal penalties.

“The statutes in California aren’t designed to prosecute players for playing poker,” he said, adding that the statute of limitations on any gambling charges would have expired or would soon expire.

Bankruptcy trustee Howard Ehrenberg filed the lawsuits in late March, attempting to recoup money on behalf of people who invested in what the legal action called a Ponzi scheme organized by Ruderman.

The suits contend the defendants have no right to keep money won from Ruderman, since the games did not have the appropriate government licenses.

Tournaments were held in luxury hotels in Beverly Hills and organized by a woman identified as Molly Bloom, who is being sued for nearly $475,000 paid to her by Ruderman, the lawsuits say.

Richards, who said he represented Bloom in the past, said she ran a catering and events business and simply received payments from Ruderman for her services.

In addition to trying to recoup money related to the poker games, Ehrenberg has also sued four of Ruderman’s associates and relatives to try to reclaim more than $280,000 in gifts and loans.

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Associated Press Writers Thomas Watkins and Greg Risling in Los Angeles, and Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/celebritydocket