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Ever heard of Dennis Blieden? On the off chance you haven`t, he`s a former digital marketing executive who attained poker stardom after winning the 2018 WPT Los Angeles Poker Classis Main Event for $1 Million.
Blieden went on to collect a few more live cashes before all hell broke loose for him. The Cincinnati local found himself at the center of an FBI investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charged him with 11 counts of Wire Fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, and two forfeiture counts. Unfortunately, it turned out all the charges against him were true. Blieden had embezzled $22 Million from his former employer StyleHaul Inc. chiefly to fuel his gambling habit!
The controversy made Blieden the black sheep of the poker community. Finally, in November 2019, as part of a deal with the prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to all the charges. Earlier this week, after a prolonged delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the California District Court finally dished out the long-awaited sentence to Blieden, handing him a six-and-a-half years prison sentence and ordered him to pay $22,669,979 in restitution.
The FBI tweeted the news of Blieden’s sentencing.
Former Digital Marketing Executive Sentenced to More Than Six and One Half Years in Federal Prison for Embezzling More Than $22 Million from Employer: Dennis Blieden, a former executive, has been sentenced to 79 months in federal prison for embezzling m… https://t.co/yrlRsOwRht
— FBI Los Angeles (@FBILosAngeles) June 10, 2021
While awaiting the sentencing, Blieden wrote a 15-page letter to Judge Andre Birotte Jr., confessing to severe gambling addiction and a “desire to belong” among poker’s elite.
Dennis Blieden’s Back Story
If you don’t know the back-story to this controversy, Dennis Blieden siphoned off millions from his employer StyleHaul between 2015 to 2019, working in the company as the controller and vice-president of Accounting and Finance. Blieden would wire the company money to his personal bank account and use it for gambling, funding his cryptocurrency account, and paying off gambling debts. While the original DOJ charges claim Blieden embezzled $22 Million this way, he pleaded guilty for stealing $2.70 Million.
Blieden, in his handwritten 15-page letter to Judge Andre Birotte, Jr., shared how he was only three years old when he was introduced to gambling by his father. By the time he was 13, he had started playing poker with his father and brother, he wrote. Like many others, he got hooked to the game during the famous “poker boom” in the U.S. “I was obsessed, idolizing these individuals and declaring that I would one day be like them.”
By the time he was in college, he had started to host poker games and playing online. But, according to him, this was when he showed “the first signs that I showed for problem gambling.”
Blieden confessed he has gone to lengths over his gambling habit, often requiring his friends and family to bail him out of his debts. And all of this started with him using his parent’s credit cards without permission to play poker. Blieden even admitted to substance abuse, namely taking amphetamines and becoming dependent on them.
He graduated from Ohio State with a degree in Accounting and Finance and relocated to L.A., where he landed a job at StyleHaul. Blieden earned about $65,000 a year and divulged that “I was spending most of my paychecks gambling, plus taking out high-interest payday loans. These loans ended up totaling around $50,000, but I knew I could not ask my parents for help again.”
Blieden also made a lot of money in cryptocurrency and became more and more reckless in gambling. He soon lost a lot of his savings in a significant downswing in the crypto market, and that’s when he started siphoning money from StyleHaul. “My plan was to take some money, gamble, pay off my loans, then put back the original amounts I took from StyleHaul back without ever being detected,” he wrote in the letter.
Blieden`s Supporters & Haters
Blieden clearly exhorted to the court for considering his crime an illness. He even managed to convince the Judaism-based Addiction center Beit T’Shuvah to submit a letter to the court, where the center underlined that Blieden “realizes today that recovery is a life-long process and that he has harmed many people along the way.”
However, Stephanie Horbaczewski, the founder and CEO of the now-closed StyleHaul, disagreed. As someone who is perhaps the most affected by Blieden’s actions, Horbaczewki was scathing in her attack against the former employee.
She submitted a statement to the court on March 22, 2021, calling Blieden a “dishonest, morally vacant character.”
Horbaczewski also charged that she wasted years defending a lawsuit brought basis of false information given by Blieden. “This is not a sick man; this is a sociopath, and he belongs in prison.”
The federal prosecutors were not impressed either. The FBI submitted their sentencing memorandum on May 26, charging Blieden for having “breached the trust and obligations owed to the young and perhaps unsophisticated YouTube, Instagram, and other social media influencers and creators.”
Blieden will be paying for his crimes by spending six-and-a-half years in federal jail. This might sound like a lot of prison time, however, considering that the FBI who investigated Blieden’s case had sought eight-and-half years of prison time for Blieden, along with three years of supervised release and the fine, Blieden might have gotten out of this mess for slightly less.