A former executive at StyleHaul Inc., a digital marketing company that represents “influencers” on Instagram and YouTube, pleaded guilty Friday to federal criminal charges for embezzling more than $22 million from his employer and then using the stolen money for personal expenses and crypto-currency gambling.
Dennis Blieden, 30, formerly of Santa Monica and now a resident of Cincinnati, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. scheduled a March 20 sentencing hearing, at which time, Blieden will face up to 22 years in federal prison.
According to his plea agreement, between October 2015 and March 2019, Blieden was the controller and vice president of accounting and finance for StyleHaul, a digital company once based in Hollywood, but which relocated to London earlier this year.
As part of his job, Blieden had control over the company’s bank accounts, and he abused this authority to wire company money to his personal bank account, according to a plea agreement. He then used the stolen money to pay for personal expenses and to fund his crypto-currency accounts.
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. He 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. He 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, federal prosecutors said.
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.
On Feb. 21 and 22, shortly before his dismissal from StyleHaul, Blieden entered two poker tournaments, with buy-in amounts of $52,000 and $103,000, respectively, court papers state.