The Secret World of Hollywood Poker
Four-star hotels, food from Matsuhisa, masseuses -- the high-stakes game frequented by Tobey Maguire, A-Rod and A-list actors welcomed an unknown player in 2006 who now has brought them the kind of press no publicist wants.
As it turned out, the fish had bluffed the sharks. He was not one of them. And thanks to Ruderman, details of the secretive poker game have come to light in public documents filed by the court-appointed trustee overseeing the bankruptcy of Ruderman's failed firm. Attempting to retrieve as much money as possible for those who were fleeced, trustee Howard Ehrenberg has gone to court, demanding that winners in that high-stakes game give back the money they had won from Ruderman.
Ehrenberg, a bankruptcy expert with law firm SulmeyerKupetz, argues that the poker players were not entitled to their winnings because Ruderman paid his debts with "improperly diverted investors' funds" from the Ponzi scheme. The trustee also argues that the games were illegal because the players paid Bloom to arrange them. That transformed the gatherings from legal home games to "controlled" games, which require a license from the state of California, he argues. Though no criminal charges are expected to be brought, legal experts say the characterization of the game as an illegal operation makes it harder for defendants to fend off the trustee's efforts to recoup their winnings.
Ehrenberg has sued 24 players and so far has reached settlements with 14 defendants, recovering $1.63 million; in total, he has recovered $5.05 million for the estate. In August, Gores, who won $445,400 from Ruderman, agreed to return $150,522; Kaplan, who won $62,000, agreed to return $27,900. "It is our view that the games were not illegal," says Patricia Glaser, attorney for Gores and Kaplan. But both settled for less than 50 percent of what they won from Ruderman. It's possible that legal fees associated with fighting the cases would have been more costly for the defendants than settling.
Salomon, winner of $23,000, returned $10,000. Attorney Joseph Costa, who represents Salomon, says his client's decision to settle was solely driven by economic considerations. "We don't believe there was anything inappropriate regarding any of the activities that went on, and to the extent they are seeking the return of monies, there are defenses to what they are alleging. There was no admission of liability or any wrongdoing by Salomon at all," he says.
Cassavetes' attorney, Ronald Richards, is expected to answer the trustee's lawsuit in the next month. Richards is representing four poker players involved in the bankruptcy proceeding.
Maguire's attorneys have noted in filings that he lost $168,500 to Ruderman in the high-stakes game and say he should therefore pay a sum reduced by that amount, if he is required to pay at all. The lawyers also have argued that the games were not illegal, and if money paid by Ruderman to him was improperly taken from Ruderman Capital, the actor didn't know it.
By several accounts, Maguire is an especially careful and skilled player, perhaps the best on the celebrity circuit. He has won a total of $51,669 in three World Series of Poker showings and placed 54th in the 2005 event. According to Francis, Maguire keeps a card-shuffling machine in the trunk of his car.
A court-ordered mediation is scheduled for November in Maguire's case, with a trial set for June 18. "The dispute with the trustee is a business dispute that is to be adjudicated in the court, and Tobey Maguire expects to be vindicated in this proceeding," a spokesperson for the actor says.
Ehrenberg is counting on the court to agree with him. The trustee says he'd hoped to settle the entire matter quietly and never intended to embarrass the celebrity players. "Am I surprised that somebody wants to defend themselves? No," he says. "Do I think they're going to win? No."