The Strange Saga of the Showtime Producer, High-Stakes Poker and the Russian Mob

 Illustration by: Dwayne Bell; Corbis

Bryan Zuriff was a rich Hollywood wannabe, Joe Francis' friend, and on the verge of success with "Ray Donovan" Then the authorities knocked on his door.

The game also has brought with it a number of legal worries. A string of Hollywood players had to deal with unwelcome publicity after a Ponzi-schemer named Brad Ruderman made his way into their game in 2006. Once his fraud became apparent and his company, Ruderman Capital Partners, was forced into bankruptcy, his Hollywood friends -- some of whom had pocketed easy winnings from him -- found themselves on the receiving end of litigation. A court-appointed trustee sued players to claw back the ill-gotten gains that Ruderman had lost at the poker table. Among them, Maguire put up stiff resistance, finally settling in November 2011 for $80,000. Cassavetes and Welcome Back, Kotter star Gabe Kaplan also were targeted in that litigation. Ruderman himself was sent to a Texas prison in 2009 to serve a 10-year sentence.

According to court filings in the Ruderman bankruptcy case, Bloom, an attractive brunette, managed games at multimillion-dollar homes and high-end hotels. The court-appointed trustee alleged that Bloom was paid to arrange hotel suites for games attended by such players as Maguire, DiCaprio and Ben Affleck. Court filings also alleged Bloom relayed information to players, hired dealers and arranged for food, drinks, massages and bodyguards. She also kept track of winnings and losses and arranged for payment to be made among players. She has since settled all claims in that case.

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Bloom relocated to New York sometime in 2009 and was reported to have started a poker game in Manhattan, arranging for sessions at high-end hotels and recruiting women from nightclubs to attend. In 2011, the tabloid Star reported that after she relocated, Bloom received a beating at the hands of "two Eastern European thugs" -- an attack confirmed by her attorney at the time, though he discounted suggestions that the incident was related to poker. In June 2011, Bloom was said to have moved again, this time to Malibu. The charges in the current indictment relate to her conduct from 2010 through the present. Bloom's attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Zuriff's connection to Bloom, if any, is unclear, and prosecutors have not laid out any possible connection between the two other than naming both in connection with the alleged money-laundering and gambling scheme.

According to a source who has knowledge of Zuriff's background, he stands to inherit $150 million or more from his grandfather and his mother. The family made a fortune in banking (their company, Century Business Credit, made loans to clients in the fashion industry, including Tommy Hilfiger).

Zuriff's grandfather Stanley Tananbaum and his brothers Martin and Alfred were major figures in harness racing who took control of the Yonkers Raceway in 1956. His mother, Ricki, married Eugene Zuriff, who worked for the family banking business for many years. Ultimately the couple divorced, and Eugene for a time served as a top executive with the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse chain.

According to a knowledgeable source, Bryan Zuriff is Stanley's favored grandson. Zuriff also is related by marriage to E! News personality Giuliana Rancic, who is his wife's sister. (Rancic also is godparent to one of Zuriff's children.) Hotelier and restaurateur Jeff Klein, whose properties include the Sunset Tower, is Zuriff's cousin.

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Zuriff grew up on Park Avenue and attended private schools. Except for a brief stint in an acting program at NYU, he skipped college and moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. According to several sources, Zuriff achieved little that was visible for many years, other than investing in flipping some houses in the Beverly Hills flats. "He was saying he's a producer and he never produced anything," says a source with knowledge of his activities.

Even colleagues at Gordon's production company aren't sure how Zuriff and Gordon came together. One heard a rumor that Zuriff befriended Gordon at the Four Seasons in Kona, Hawaii. Another thinks they met through their children's school. "Bryan sort of just joined the company all of a sudden," says a former associate. "It was this odd thing. I had no idea who he was or where he came from."

The business arrangement between Gordon and Zuriff also was unclear. Some associates believe Zuriff got a title and an office and no pay. As they understood it, the deal was that Zuriff would bring projects to Gordon in exchange for a piece of whatever deal came together.

Gordon gave Zuriff credits on several projects, including Oren Moverman's 2009 drama The Messenger, which brought Woody Harrelson an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor, and the small 2011 dark comedy The Details, which starred Maguire as well as Laura Linney and Elizabeth Banks. A blurb in Showtime's publicity materials for Ray Donovan says Zuriff's upcoming projects include the Steve Jobs biopic that Aaron Sorkin is writing, though Scott Rudin would seem to be by far the most significant producer on that project. Several sources say that Zuriff and Gordon terminated their business relationship a few months ago.

Asked about his arrangement with Zuriff, Gordon said through a spokesperson: "The Mark Gordon Co. has had a relationship with Bryan for several years, which has led to such successful projects as The Messenger, The Details and Ray Donovan." He declined further comment. In fact, The Details grossed only $63,595 and The Messenger, which cost a little under $10 million, grossed just $1.5 million.

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What surprised some of Zuriff's former colleagues at Gordon's company was that this out-of-nowhere newcomer had unexpected connections. One says Zuriff seemed to know "everybody -- A-list actors, top agents at CAA. That was Bryan's in. … He had money and relationships." Former colleagues say Zuriff was in the office daily and seemed to take the job seriously. "He's like an agent, always working it," one says. "He's not a creative type, but he works all the angles. It's beneficial, in our business, to use someone who's able to do that."

To another, Zuriff seemed "sweet" and nonthreatening, and he got access to desirable spec scripts. When money was needed for The Messenger, he came up with the cash and got a credit. A source says he paid $1 million for the project after phoning his skeptical grandfather for help and arguing that the project would make money.

Now, Zuriff's legal troubles could derail his attempt to establish himself as a Hollywood player -- and not just the kind who sits at a card table. Joe Francis has faith in his friend, and that his legal troubles will soon be behind him and the way forward will be clear. "Hollywood is very forgiving," he says, "especially with a scandal like this. BZ was not part of any mafia situation or anything like that. I'm very happy for him." And Francis suggests that his friend may emerge from this episode an even better man. "BZ will never gamble again," he says. "He's scared straight."

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