LAPC Champ Dennis Blieden Indicted on Charges of Embezzling $22 Million from Former Employer
Back in March of 2018, an unknown in the poker world named Dennis Blieden rose to the top of a tough field of 493 entries to take down the $10,000 buy-in World Poker Tour L.A. Poker Classic Main Event for a $1 million payday. Now 16 months later, he's back on the news wire but this time, it's not in a positive light.
On Thursday, July 11, Blieden was indicted by a federal grand jury for embezzling $22 million from his former employer StyleHaul, where he had served as controller and vice president of accounting and finance. In that role, it is alleged that Blieden funneled money from company accounts for his private use, which included poker buy-ins and other forms of gambling, between October 2015 and March 2019.
"If convicted of all charges, Blieden would face a statutory maximum sentence of more than 200 years in federal prison."
The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on Tuesday and unsealed on Thursday, contained charges of 11 counts of wire fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, and two forfeiture counts against Blieden. The press release posted by the Department of Justice's U.S. Attorney's Office of the Central District of California reported that Blieden made his first court appearance today, Thursday, in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, and is to be arraigned on the indictment at a later date in Los Angeles.
The case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Valerie L. Makarewicz of the Major Frauds Section.
Charges Against Blieden
Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Blieden told PokerNews during the 2018 WPT Tournament of Champions (TOC) that he moved out to Southern California with some friends after finishing college in Ohio. He then resided in Santa Monica, California for some years while he worked for the aforementioned StyleHaul, a digital marketing company that connects brands with social media personalities. According to the DOJ, Blieden was residing in Nevada when he was arrested and taken into federal custody in Las Vegas on July 10.
In addition to using company funds to enter poker tournaments, the DOJ press release stated that Blieden "frequently engaged in online gambling with crypto-currency he purchased with embezzled money, according to the government’s motion requesting detention in this case." The report further elaborated that according to court documents, Blieden allegedly wrote $1,204,000 in "personal checks to poker players," used $1,134,956 to pay credit cards, and transferred $8,473,734 to crypto-currency accounts.
It is alleged that Blieden funneled money from company accounts for his private use, which included poker buy-ins and other forms of gambling.
According to the report, Blieden is charged with disguising his fraudulent behavior by methods including creating a fictitious lease for rental of a condominium in Rosarito Beach, Mexico back in May 2018 that contained a StyleHaul executive's forged signature. The indictment alleges that Blieden falsely represented expenses of $230,000 for renting said condo for company clients and employees, funds which were unlawfully transferred for personal use. Other alleged fraudulent activities were the creation of fabricated wire transfer letters that imitated payments to clients.
Though not yet convicted, the outlook for Blieden is grim, as the release states: "If convicted of all charges, Blieden would face a statutory maximum sentence of more than 200 years in federal prison."
A Brief but Exhilarating Poker Career
Blieden was fairly new to the poker tournament scene when he mowed down a talented final table and beat Toby Lewis heads up to add his name to the WPT Champions Cup at the LAPC more than a year ago. Leading up to that million-dollar score, Blieden had just two cashes on his poker Hendon Mob profile with a career-high score of $21,148 for a 13th-place finish in a 2017 $5,000 WSOP event.
Since his big victory, Blieden popped up sporadically at some of the bigger stops, playing in the 2018 WPT season-ending $15,000 TOC which he qualified for with his win, also firing the $300,000 Aria Super High Roller Bowl in the same trip. He failed to cash in either of those and had the same result in the two US Poker Open events he played — a $50,000 and a $100,000 event — back in late February, before he was dismissed from his position at StyleHaul.
“I figure out my game plan by the moment. I don’t really ever have a game plan going into tournaments."
In fact, the only two tournament results he's logged since claiming the LAPC title both came last month. Blieden finished in 182nd place in a WSOP $1,500 Bounty event for a modest $1,603 and he took 17th in the $10,300 partypoker MILLIONS Vegas at Aria which earned him a payout of $35,000.
In his WPT win and in the TOC where he finished Day 1 as chip leader and eventually busted out on the money bubble, Blieden played a characteristically aggressive style, which we highlighted in a feature right here at PokerNews. At the LAPC final table, Blieden even went as far as raising his button without looking at his cards and his fearless play paid off.
During his run in the 2018 TOC, he told PokerNews, “I figure out my game plan by the moment. I don’t really ever have a game plan going into tournaments." He explained on Day 1 that this very style was working for him even in an event packed with former WPT champions: “When someone with my style catches a few hands too, it’s really hard to beat me, because you can’t put me on a hand. You always want to think I’m bluffing, so when I actually have it, it puts them in a really weird spot.”
As is often the case, a super aggressive style in poker works well and oftentimes ends with the player coming out on top with all the chips, or hitting the rail in a boom-or-bust fashion. Unfortunately for Blieden, his most recent bluff may have been his last.