A former executive at a Hollywood-based digital marketing company that represents influencers on Instagram and YouTube was sentenced recently to 79 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $22 million from his employer and then using the stolen money for personal expenses and cryptocurrency gambling.
Dennis Blieden, 31, of Cincinnati, but who formerly lived in Santa Monica, was sentenced by United States District Judge André Birotte Jr., who also ordered him to pay $22,669,979 in restitution.
Blieden pleaded guilty in November 2019 to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
From October 2015 to March 2019, Blieden was the controller and vice president of accounting and finance for StyleHaul Inc., a digital company once based in Hollywood. As part of his job, Blieden had control over the company’s bank accounts. He abused this authority to wire company money to his personal bank account, then, used the stolen money to pay for personal expenses, gambling debt, and to fund his cryptocurrency 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. 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.
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. 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.
Blieden, who has entered and won professional poker tournaments, also frequently engaged in online gambling with cryptocurrency he purchased with embezzled money.
“(Blieden)…breached the trust and obligations owed to the young and perhaps unsophisticated YouTube, Instagram, and other social media influencers and creators, who earned money through their work on said platforms, that were needed to support their families,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum. “Those clients relied upon defendant to do his job, when instead, he stole millions (of dollars) from them.”
The FBI investigated this matter.