A federal court has dealt WPT winner Dennis Blieden 6.5 years in prison for embezzling over $22m from StyleHaul Inc. [Image: flickr.com]
Poker champ misappropriated StyleHaul funds
Dennis Blieden, the winner of the 2018 World Poker Tour (WPT) L.A. Poker Classic, is federal prison-bound for 6.5 years for embezzling over $22m from his former employer, Los Angeles-based StyleHaul Inc.
United States District Judge André Birotte Jr handed Blieden his sentence in Los Angeles on June 9. The FBI, who investigated the case, took to Twitter on June 10 to share the news of the former Hollywood digital marketing executive’s sentence:
The 31-year-old poker star, who comes from Cincinnati but who once lived in Santa Monica, must also pay $22,669,979 in restitution.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Bleiden managed StyleHaul’s company bank accounts from October 2015 through March 2019, in his capacity as controller and vice president of accounting.
The DOJ said the former WPT champ “abused his authority to wire company money to his personal bank account.” Blieden then used the misappropriated money for “personal expenses, gambling debt and to fund his cryptocurrency accounts.”
Blieden wrote judge 15-page letter
Poker news reporter Chad Holloway on June 11 revealed on Twitter that Blieden submitted a 15-page letter to Judge Birotte Jr, laying out his version of the story:
In the letter, Blieden cites a gambling addiction and a “desire to belong” with the poker elite as drivers behind his actions. Blieden pleaded guilty in November 2019 to one count apiece of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
[Blieden] was a dishonest, morally vacant monster.”
A damning Victims Impact Statement submitted on March 22, 2021 by Stephanie Horbaczewski, founder and CEO of the now-shuttered StyleHaul, doesn’t buy Blieden’s addiction angle. Horbaczewski said that because of Blieden, she spent years “defending a lawsuit brought based on false information Dennis provided, before anyone knew that [Blieden] was a dishonest, morally vacant monster.”
Horbaczewski’s victim statement also referred to a Starbucks finance team member confronting the exposed Blieden. Rather than coming clean about “his professed ‘illness’ – he shrugged his shoulders,” the statement reads.
“This is not a sick man; this is a sociopath, and he belongs in prison,” Horbaczewski added.
Guilty man gets time despite addiction center support
Holloway, meanwhile, highlighted a letter of support from a residential addiction treatment center Blieden attended, Beit T’Shuvah, which was filed with the court before his sentencing. The letter stated that Blieden “realizes today that recovery is a life-long process and that he has harmed many people along the way.”
Beit T’Shuvah senior alternative sentencing associate, Janet Markowitz, added that Blieden “is not the same man who entered our program over one year ago.”
Despite support from the Judaism-based center, federal prosecutors were having none of it in their sentencing memorandum. The memo said Blieden “breached the trust and obligations owed to the young and perhaps unsophisticated YouTube, Instagram, and other social media influencers and creators.”
Before shuttering in 2019, StyleHaul made a name for its large-scale influencer and paid media campaigns for leading brands.
Federal prosecutors stated that StyleHaul’s clients relied on Blieden to “do his job, when instead, he stole millions (of dollars) from them.”