The man who introduced THE SMURFS to America has withdrawn his guilty plea shortly before he was due to be sentenced for his part in an alleged extortion plot.
Stuart R. Ross, who bought the rights to the animated blue characters in the 1970s and launched them in the U.S., was arrested in 2008 and accused of attempting to extort money from his wealthy son-in-law David Blitzer.
He pleaded guilty to charges of attempted grand larceny in August (10) and was due to face sentencing at a New York court on Tuesday (05Oct10), where he was expected to escape jail and be ordered to attend alcohol-abuse and psychiatric programs at the city's Bellevue Hospital.
But during the sentencing hearing, Ross asked to withdraw his guilty plea and take the case to trial instead, according to the New York Daily News.
Ross' defence attorney Matthew Myers claims his client, who has been suffering from alcoholism, cancer, pneumonia and heart disease, only accepted the plea deal because he was being held in prison without bail at the time.
Myers says, "We just wanted him to get out of jail. Mr. Ross was under extreme duress when he took it (the plea deal)."
Supreme Court Justice Bonnie Wittner gave Ross until 1 November (10) to officially decide whether he wants to head to trial or take the previously drawn up plea deal
If convicted Ross faces seven years in prison.