Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

$11M Family Feud Rocks Private Equity World; at Loggerheads: Stuart Ross, above Left with His Attorney, Stuart Jackson, and His Son-in-Law, David Blitzer, Far Right

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

$11M Family Feud Rocks Private Equity World; at Loggerheads: Stuart Ross, above Left with His Attorney, Stuart Jackson, and His Son-in-Law, David Blitzer, Far Right

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID COHEN

Stand by for Blitzer-krieg: the super-rich Mr Clean of London high finance is about to take on his father-in-law in an extortion case in New York

WITHIN London's world of private equity, there are few more powerful or highly respected men than multi-millionaire David Blitzer. As senior managing director of Blackstone Group, the world's largest buyout fund controlling worldwide assets that, before the stock market fall, amounted to $119 billion, Blitzer has masterminded some of the capital's most lucrative deals. These include the takeover of Merlin Entertainment, the largest global leisure operator after Disney and owners of the London Eye, Madame Tussauds and Thorpe Park.

Known as "Mr Clean", Blitzer, 38, who heads Blackstone's European operation, has an enviable reputation as "an honourable man in a sea of sharks". Former colleague David Marks describes him as "tough as hell" and "beyond intelligent a man who can work out internal rates of return in his head faster than a calculator" but who is also "a thoroughly straightforward family man with no whiff of controversy".

So when the District Attorney's Office in New York announced last month that the private equity king had allegedly been the victim of an $11 million extortion plot by his own father-in-law, Blitzer's associates were deeply shocked. The sting operation, in which American-born Blitzer had secretly taped his father-inlaw Stuart Ross apparently demanding ever-escalating sums at a meeting at the Union League Club in Manhattan, led to Ross, 71, and his lawyer, Stuart Jackson, 79, being arrested. They were charged with grand larceny and bailed.

Initially it seemed an open-and-shut case. But at a preliminary court hearing, Ross, a non-practising attorney known for bringing the iconic children's TV cartoon series The Smurfs to America in the Eighties, fought back. He called his son-in-law's action "malicious" and protested that he was "only trying to work out a deal to see his grandchildren", from whom he says he has been estranged.

Later, speaking from his condominium in Miami, Ross said: "I am outraged at David's behaviour. Far from proving my guilt, the taped evidence is in my favour.

It will show the only subject that came up was my desire to see my grandchildren and his offer to buy me off for money. It will show that as recently as April, David happily met me at his Mayfair office to discuss a mutually beneficial business deal and how, when it turned sour, he tried to crush me.

"Ever since David and my daughter Allison came to live in London in 2002, I have been cut off from seeing my grandchildren, Kylie, who is five, Michael, three, and their one-year-old twins Jake and Leyla. I had sent the children letters and presents but the gifts were returned, the letters torn up. I hoped our new business deal would be the start of being reunited with my grandchildren. I was never given a reason for my estrangement." Who is telling the truth will be for a Grand Jury to decide when it sits in secret next month. The stakes are high..

If the Grand Jury acquits Ross, Blitzer will be acutely embarrassed; if it proceeds to a public trial and Ross is found guilty, he faces up to seven years in prison.

Central to the case will be the story of how the Blitzers who live in a ?5 million Chelsea house and have a $10 million holiday home in Connecticut have become embroiled in a feud that could see their private lives aired in court. According to Ross, he and his wife Sheila and their two daughters, Robin and Allison, now in their late thirties, were "a typical close, loving Jewish family" until he and Sheila separated six years ago. In fact, he says, Allison was the inspiration for him pursuing the rights to The Smurfs.

"In 1975 I went to Brussels and bought the kids some cute little blue figurines known as Schtroumps from the hotel gift shop. Allison loved them and when she asked me to get some more, I discovered they were the comic-strip creation of a Belgian cartoonist called Peyo. …

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