Dennis Blieden, a former executive at a Hollywood firm representing social media influencers and a professional poker player, last week plead guilty to federal charges. They stemmed from allegations he bilked more than $22 million from his previous employer to pay for his gambling habit and credit card bills.
Blieden, 30, previously occupied the role of VP of accounting and finance for StyleHaul, a marketing and talent agency aimed at well-known personalities from social media platforms, such as Instagram and YouTube. In that position, Blieden had access to the company’s domestic bank accounts, which he abused to transfer funds to his personal accounts in order to finance his poker habit and reduce his consumer debt.
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,” according to a statement issued by the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. “Blieden then used the stolen money to pay for personal expenses and to fund his cryptocurrency accounts.”
Blieden, formerly a Los Angeles resident and now living in Cincinnati, plead guilty last week to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Let’s Make A Deal?
The US Attorney’s Office did not mention that a deal for leniency was struck with Blieden. But the number of counts he agreed to plead guilty to last week are significantly less than what he was indicted on in July.
As Casino.org reported then, a federal grand jury agreed to charge the defendant with 11 counts of wire fraud, two counts of forfeiture, and a single count of aggravated identity theft.
Had federal authorities successfully pursued each of those counts, and had Blieden been found guilty on all 14 charges, he could have faced up to 200 years in prison. For the two counts he did plead guilty to, his sentence is still likely to be stiff, but significantly less than two centuries.
“United States District Judge André Birotte Jr. scheduled a March 20 sentencing hearing, at which time Blieden will face a statutory maximum sentence of 22 years in federal prison,” said the US Attorney’s Office.
Blieden, who was employed by StyleHaul between October 2015 and March 2019, went to great lengths to obfuscate his misdeeds. As part of his plea agreement, he admitted to falsifying wire transfers that he claimed went to social media stars, but were sent to his bank accounts. He also took money from StyleHaul accounts that he claimed was equity compensation owed to him by the company.
In one of the more brazen examples of his transgressions, Blieden created a bogus lease for a beachfront condo in Mexico, transferring $230,000 of StyleHaul funds “by falsely representing that the condominium was being rented for business purposes for StyleHaul’s clients and employees.”
To make that happen, he forged the signature of another StyleHaul executive. Each step in the process to “rent” the condo led to the identity theft charge.
Just days before he was fired, Blieden plunked down a combined $155,000 to play in two poker tournaments.
“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 cryptocurrency accounts, according to court documents,” the US Attorney said.
Blieden cashed in two tournaments earlier this year and won the WPT LA Poker Classic at the Commerce Hotel & Casino during the 2017-2018 World Poker Tour (WPT) season, taking home $1 million for that victory.
The poker community had mixed reviews on Blieden’s playing style, with some calling it “fearless,” while others said he lacked skill and “awareness.”