COURT NEWS: Former Hollywood Digital Marketing Executive and Professional Poker Player Admits Embezzling $22 Million from Employer
LOS ANGELES – A former executive at StyleHaul Inc., a digital marketing company that represents “influencers” on Instagram and YouTube, pleaded guilty Nov. 22, 2019, 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 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. Blieden 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. 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.
Blieden, who has entered and won professional poker tournaments, also frequently engaged in online gambling with cryptocurrency he purchased with embezzled money, according to court documents.
During the course of the alleged scheme,
- Blieden used the 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.
On February 21 and 22, shortly before his dismissal from StyleHaul, Blieden entered into two poker tournaments, wherein the buy-in amounts were $52,000 and $103,000, respectively, court papers state.
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.
The FBI investigated this case.
This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Valerie L. Makarewicz of the Major Frauds Section.
KTLA reported: 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.
VARIETY PUBLISHED THIS STORY ABOUT STYLEHAUL on March 22, 2019
The ax is falling on StyleHaul: The fashion, beauty, and lifestyle digital media and marketing company owned by RTL Group is shuttering U.S. operations, resulting in the layoff of around 65 employees.
StyleHaul offices in L.A., with about 55 employees, and in New York City, with around 10 staffers, are closing.
RTL said StyleHaul’s U.K. operations, headed by Giles Drew, will continue. Sean Atkins, the former MTV president who joined the company last year as CEO of StyleHaul and CEO of RTL Group’s Digital Video Group, will remain in the role and split his time between the U.S. and U.K.
The shutdown of the U.S. side of StyleHaul’s business comes after RTL last week announced a goodwill impairment related to the decline of StyleHaul’s value for full-year 2018 of around $119 million (€105 million). When RTL acquired a majority stake in StyleHaul in 2014 for $107 million, it valued the company at $151.4 million at the time. MORE
TUBEFILTER PROVIDED THIS NEWS ABOUT STYLEHAUL on May 29, 2019
Beleaguered YouTube network StyleHaul confirmed in March that it was shuttering all U.S.-based operations to shift its influencer and talent management to Europe.
At the time, it said the move wouldn’t affect StyleHaul creators, who were to be be managed from Europe and benefit from a newly-established Digital Video Group — an entity created by parent company RTL Group last September to generate more synergy between its MCN properties, including StyleHaul, Berlin-based Divimove, and Stockholm-headquartered United Screens.
But now, StyleHaul has scrapped these plans and will cease operations entirely.
“We have said it is critical that we concentrate and invest the resources of our Digital Video Group to better align with our strengths,” Sean Atkins, CEO of both StyleHaul and the Digital Video Group, told Tubefilter in a statement. “Our growing European assets, which include Divimove and United Screens, must be our priority going forward. Following a further in-depth review of the portfolio, we have now decided to fully exit the StyleHaul business and will explore opportunities for talent and creators currently represented by StyleHaul to work directly with Divimove or United Screens in the future.”
The company did not
respond to request for comment about how many employees and creators the
shutdown would impact. Its Twitter and Instagram accounts have been privated.