SANTA MONICA- On Wednesday, June 9, the Department of Justice announced that a former digital marketing executive who represents influencers on YouTube and Instagram has been sentenced to 79 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $22 million from his employer and then using the stolen money for cryptocurrency, gambling, and personal expenses.
Dennis Blieden, 31, 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 of 2019 to one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of wire fraud.
Blieden was the vice president and controller of accounting and finance for StyleHaul Inc., a digital company that was once based in Hollywood. Blieden had control over the company’s bank accounts as part of his job. He wired company money to his personal bank account, then, used the stolen money to fund his cryptocurrency accounts, gambling debt, and to pay for personal expenses.
Blieden made fraudulent entries in StyleHaul’s accounting records, falsely representing that the illegal wire transfers he made were authorized payments of money in order to conceal his scheme. 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 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 created a fictitious lease in May of 2018 for the rental of a condominium in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, which bore a forged signature of a StyleHaul executive, in order to disguise his fraud. He illicitly transferred $230,000 of StyleHaul’s funds by falsely representing that the condominium was being rented for business purposes for StyleHaul’s employees and clients.
Blieden 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 and Assistant United States Attorney Valerie L. Makarewicz prosecuted this case.