Instead of creating a compelling drama, Showtime series Ray Donovan producer Bryan Zuriff is starring in his own crime series, it seems, and it’s not having a very happy ending for the troubled Hollywood mogul. Zuriff has now entered a guilty plea with the Southern District Court of New York – the Department of Justice arm that indicted Zuriff, along with 33 others, back in April of this year for a high-profile Russian mob-spearheaded, organized crime Internet sportsbetting and high-stakes poker syndicate ring. The plea was for Zuriff’s indictment on felony gambling charges and was received by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara last week.
Plea Deal and Forfeiture
Specifically, Zuriff’s charges include operating an illegal sports gambling business, transmission of sports wagering information across state lines, and acceptance of financial instruments for unlawful Internet gambling; he has only pled guilty, as of now, to the last charge, and could receive as much as five years in the joint for his role in the international gambling scandal. Moreover, the producer will also have to forfeit half a million dollars to meet the terms of his plea deal with the Feds. He now awaits sentencing on Nov. 25 – three days before Thanksgiving and two before the start of (very early) Hanukkah this year – so it should be a really fun holiday season for Zuriff this year. Maybe he should eat his turkey early; we hear the stuff they serve in prison isn’t prepared by Martha Stewart (anymore).
Zuriff was apparently as busy being a high-end bookie as he was working on sets; Bharara’s statements regarding the plea deal said that the producer “spanned the coasts with his crimes,” as he was running illegal sportsbetting operations from both LaLa Land in Hollywood, as well as helping run the show back in the Big Apple, under the watch of art dealer Hillel Nahmad and other Russian big-time players. Zuriff’s plea deal wraps up Bharara’s work on this case as the final conviction in what the attorney has termed “this sprawling script of criminal conduct.” Maybe Zuriff can write some new scripts to be shopped while in his cell; he should have plenty of time on his hands.
Bestseller in the Making
With Hollywood never shy about making money off a scandal – not even when its own members are involved (human or body parts), word is that another high-profile person of notoriety who was part of this circle is already writing her own book about it. “Poker madam” Molly Bloom – also indicted by the DoJ earlier this year – is said to be bandying about lots of big movie star names in her tome, possibly including Spiderman actor Tobey Maguire, who apparently was a poker game regular in these A-list Tinseltown home games.
The entire operation laundered some $100 million in unlawful gambling profits, according to federal prosecutors, using hundreds of small bank accounts as well as shell companies created in the U.S. and Cypress. Mark Galeotti, a Russian organized crime expert at New York University, says a sharp uptake in upper class wealth in what was previously the Soviet Union has created a whole new underground for tapping into the worldwide – and enormous -illegal sportsbetting market, with potentially billions in hidden profits (unless they get busted, as happened here, of course.) “We’re seeing higher-rolling businessmen involved in these types of cases,” Galeotti noted. The high rollers’ bookies are left with the problem “of trying to figure out what to do with suitcases full of cash, and that leads to the money laundering,” he added.
Now why a successful Hollywood producer got involved in all of this, putting his own money, reputation and actual life on the line: that’s a good topic for a future crime mystery. Meanwhile, all the publicity surrounding Zuriff apparently hasn’t hurt his show; it was just picked up for another season by Showtime with only three shows having aired so far.