A former executive at a digital marketing company that represents Instagram and YouTube personalities was sentenced Wednesday to 6 1/2 years behind bars for embezzling more than $22 million from his employer and then using the stolen money for personal expenses and crypto-currency gambling.

Dennis Blieden, 31, who formerly lived in Santa Monica and currently resides in Cincinnati, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr., who also ordered him to pay nearly $22.7 million in restitution in addition to the 79 months in federal prison.

Blieden blamed a life-long addiction to gambling for his crimes, telling the judge in a 14-page letter that he began gambling at the age of three when his father used the game of blackjack to teach him to count. At age 13, Blieden wrote, he began playing poker for money and became “obsessed” with the game.

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. 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.

Blieden 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. 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.

In November 2019, Blieden pleaded guilty to one count each of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

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 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.

In February 2019, 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.

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