A World Poker Tour champion will spend more than six years behind bars for embezzling $22 million from his former employer.
Dennis Blieden, who won the 2018 WPT LA Poker Classic main event for $1,00,000, was sentenced to 79 months in federal prison by a U.S. District Court judge in Central California. He will also be forced to pay $22.7 million in restitution.
Blieden, 31, pled guilty in November 2019 to one count of wire fraud and identity theft as part of a plea deal. He was originally facing 11 counts of wire fraud, one count of identity theft and two counts of forfeiture. Those charges could land him up to 200 years in prison, but after the plea deal, he was facing a maximum of 22 years behind bars.
The Cincinnati native served as the controller and vice president of accounting and finance for StyleHaul, a Los Angeles-based digital marketing company that represented “influencers” on YouTube and Instagram. He had control of the company’s finances and used $22 million to finance his high-stakes gambling.
During his tenure, Blieden falsified wire transfers from Western Union to make it look like the money was being used to pay clients, but instead, he was keeping the money for himself.
The DOJ said that Blieden wrote $1.2 million in personal checks to other poker players, used $1.1 million to pay off credit cards and spent another $8.4 million buying cryptocurrency. The rest of it was used for his personal expenditures, including high-stakes poker. The cryptocurrency he purchased had appreciated, but not enough to pay off his debts to the company.
An internal investigation by the company in March of 2019 led to the uncovering of Blieden’s actions. He was indicted in Las Vegas later that year and extradited to Southern California. Blieden stole the money over several years before ultimately leaving the company in 2018.
Even though he earned a seven-figure score with his WPT victory in 2018, he was already buried in debt from prior gambling endeavors and wasn’t even close to paying back the debts he owed to the company. He embezzled $15 million in 2017, according to an internal StyleHaul memo.
The feds said that on one of his gambling trips to Las Vegas, he lost $3 million on slot machines alone. It was his gambling problem coupled with his desire to become a successful poker pro that drove him deeper into the hole, which he referenced in a 15-page pre-sentencing letter that Blieden wrote to Judge Andre Birotte Jr.
“I was chasing my debt, but also attempting to keep up with a lifestyle that was a lie,” wrote Blieden.
He went on to say that following his WPT victory, he was “outwardly validated within the poker community” and that he “did everything [he] could to keep that reputation alive.” He also admitted to having a problem with methamphetamines in his letter.
Prosecutors recommended locking up Blieden for 8.5 years, but Birotte shaved nearly two years off that with his sentencing.