A former executive at a Hollywood marketing firm that represents Instagram and YouTube influencers pleaded guilty Friday to stealing millions from his employer and spending the money on poker tournaments and online gambling, officials said Thursday.
Dennis Blieden, 30, who lived in Santa Monica but now resides in Cincinnati, admitted to committing the crimes during the four years he served as controller and vice president of accounting and finance at StyleHaul, from October 2015 and March 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a news release.
Blieden controlled the the firm’s bank accounts and routinely wired money to his personal accounts, prosecutors said.
StyleHaul was based in Hollywood, but shuttered its U.S. operations in March when it “simply couldn’t sustain profitability,” Variety reported. The company had planned to relocate to London, but those plans were scrapped and it shut down entirely, according to Tubefilter.
The defendant used money he took from the company to enter and win professional poker tournaments, according to court documents.
A May 2018 article on PokerNews.com says Blieden had begun competing in tournaments about 18 months before and did so only sporadically — “But when he plays, he really goes for it.”
He won the 2018 World Poker Tour Los Angeles Poker Classic — and a $1 million prize — using a “hyper-aggressive style,” the website reported.
In February 2018, shortly before he was fired from StyleHaul, Blieden entered into two poker tournaments with buy-ins at $52,000 and $103,000, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Blieden wrote $1,204,000 in personal checks to poker players using money he stole from the company.
Another $8,473,734 was transferred to his cryptocurrency accounts, which he often used to fund online gambling, and $1,134,956 was used to pay off credit-card debt, officials said.
Blieden admitted to embezzling a total of $22 million.
He allegedly used various schemes to hide his crimes from his employer, including spending $230,000 in company funds to rent a condo in Rosarito, Mexico, by forging the signature of another StyleHaul executive and saying it was being used for business.
Blieden was originally indicted on 14 counts: 11 counts of wire fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft and two forfeiture counts. Upon his arrest this July in Las Vegas, he was facing a possible maximum sentence exceeding 200 years behind bars.
But after cutting an agreement with prosecutors, on Friday he pleaded guilty to only two counts, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
He’s now facing up to 22 years in federal prison at his sentencing, scheduled for March 20.