Lawyer: Ex-Smurfs owner may change NY guilty plea

A Florida businessman who once played a part in the Smurfs cartoon empire is having second thoughts after pleading guilty in New York to trying to shake down his financier son-in-law for $11 million, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Stuart R. Ross pleaded guilty in August to attempted grand larceny, admitting he tried to extort the money by threatening to destroy his son-in-law's professional reputation and offering to give up access to Ross' grandchildren.

Ross, 73, was promised probation.

But lawyer Matthew Myers said Ross might try to withdraw the plea he made "under extreme duress" because of health problems.

"He had tremendous medical issues going on at that time" and was dealing with them while jailed on $200,000 bond as he awaited trial, Myers said. "We just wanted to get him out of jail."

Prosecutors had no immediate response. Ross would need to make a formal request and get a judge's approval to take back the plea.

For now, Ross is continuing to negotiate potential probation conditions with prosecutors, Myers said. Ross is due back in a Manhattan court Nov. 1.

Ross, of Aventura, Fla., owned certain rights to the Smurfs years ago, according to civil court papers filed by Ross and his son-in-law, David S. Blitzer, a senior managing director at the financial services firm The Blackstone Group LP. Ross says he bought North American rights to the sky-blue, gnome-like characters after seeing them in their native Belgium in 1976.

The cartoon creatures rocketed to fame in a 1980s TV series made by the animation powerhouse Hanna-Barbera Productions. Representatives didn't immediately return telephone calls about Ross on Tuesday and in August.