judge gavel and set of playing cards with dices, money and chips, on wooden table

Former WPT Winner Dennis Blieden Pleads Guilty in Embezzlement Case

Dennis Blieden, a former Hollywood executive and winner of the 2018 World Poker Tour LA Poker Classic, has pled guilty to two counts related to his embezzlement of roughly $22 million from the LA-based social-media company where he formerly worked.

Blieden, now 30 and currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio, pled guilty earlier today to federal criminal charges for embezzling more than $22 million from his employer, StyleHaul and then using the stolen money for “personal expenses and crypto-currency gambling”, along with some live gambling and poker as well.

Dennis Blieden at the WPT L.A. Poker Classic Season 2017-2018 (Source: WPT)

According to a statement from the Central District of California US Attorney’s Office, Blieden will be sentenced on March 20, 2020, and will face up to a statutory maximum of 22 years in prison on the two counts. The former “influencer” business exec embezzled the many millions over roughly four years, from 2014 to 2018. StyleHaul itself was severely damaged by the theft, and it has since relocated its remaining business to London.

In July, Blieden was arrested in Las Vegas, then extradited to Los Angeles, where he was charged with 11 counts of wire fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, and two forfeiture counts. The plea deal involves just two of those counts, one each of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, with the other counts to be dismissed. It is unlikely he’ll serve anywhere near the 22-year maximum based on similar white-collar cases, but a shorter sentence of a year or a few years, plus the forfeiture of all attachable assets is among the likelier scenarios. It could have been much worse: Blieden faced up to 200 years in prison on the charges, given the massive amounts involved.

Today’s USAO statement reiterated the most important details in Blieden’s long-running fraud:

To conceal his scheme, Blieden made fraudulent entries in StyleHaul’s accounting records, falsely representing that the illegal wire transfers he made were authorized payments of money due to StyleHaul clients. Blieden also falsely indicated on one of StyleHaul’s bank accounts that wire transfers to Blieden’s personal bank account were “equity” draws that the company owed him, according to court documents. Furthermore, Blieden created fictitious wire transfer letters that purported to be from Western Union and were designed to make it appear that he had caused wire transfers from StyleHaul to pay money it purportedly owed to a client, the plea agreement states.

Blieden also disguised his fraud by creating a fictitious lease in May 2018 for the rental of a condominium in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, which bore a forged signature of a StyleHaul executive, according to the plea agreement. Blieden admitted that he illicitly transferred $230,000 of StyleHaul’s funds by falsely representing that the condominium was being rented for business purposes for StyleHaul’s clients and employees. This conduct forms the basis of the aggravated identity theft charge.

Previously, the USAO prosecutors detailed how many of the stolen millions went to fund Blieden’s poker and online-gambling habits. “Blieden, who has entered and won professional poker tournaments, also frequently engaged in online gambling with crypto-currency he purchased with embezzled money, according to court documents. During the course of the alleged scheme, Blieden used money he stole from his employer to write $1,204,000 in personal checks to poker players, $1,134,956 was used to pay off his credit cards, and $8,473,734 was transferred to Blieden’s crypto-currency accounts, according to court documents.”

Blieden emerged from almost nowhere in poker terms to take down the 2018 LAPC main, though that remains his singular poker accomplishment… and it’s likely to remain that way.

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