Professional poker player Dennis Blieden pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft – he allegedly embezzled over $22 million from online marketing company StyleHaul, which was his employer. Blieden transferred a large portion of the embezlled funds, almost $8.5 million, to his personal cryptocurrency accounts and used the cryptocurrency for gambling online.
Blieden won the L.A. Poker Classic hosted by World Poker Tour in 2018, earning a $1 million prize. While he was still employed with StyleHaul, he reportedly entered tournaments with buy-ins of $52,000 and $103,000.
Blieden was able to misappropriate the company’s funds thanks to his position as the company’s vice president of accounting and finance. He used a variety of tactics to make the transactions to his personal accounts appear legitimate – for example, Blieden would label the transactions as payments that were owed to StyleHaul’s clients or “equity draws” owed to him by the company.
The press release by the US Department of Justice explains further:
“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.”
StyleHaul, which managed over 5,000 YouTube channels, shut down its US operations earlier in 2019, with over 65 employees losing their jobs. Blieden is facing up to 22 years in prison and will have a sentencing hearing on March 20.