In an interesting and unfortunate case, former World Poker Tour L. A. Poker Classic champion Dennis Blieden has pled guilty to several charges of embezzlement of millions of dollars. While he hasn’t been sentenced yet, it is highly likely the poker champion will not see the outside world for some time.
Charges Include Identity Theft, Wire Fraud
The U. S. Attorney for the Central District of California, which covers the area of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino counties (among others), has confirmed for several outlets that Blieden changed his plea in his case earlier this week. The plea deal accepted by Blieden covers all the charges that were presented against him, including one charge of identity theft, two charges of unlawful forfeiture and 11 counts of wire fraud. Those 14 charges cover more than $22 million that Blieden unlawfully took from an employer.
In 2015, Blieden went to work for a company called StyleHaul, Inc, and Blieden would pillage the company’s accounts for the entirety of his four years of employment with the company. Over that time, Blieden would use the money to fund his poker play around the world, his travel and even his debts to other players. Perhaps the biggest crime in the eyes of the authorities, however, was Blieden’s investment in cryptocurrency, in which Blieden took over $8.4 million.
With the guilty plea, Blieden is looking to avoid a massive amount of time in prison. If he had been convicted in court of the charges, Blieden was looking at over 200 years as a sentence. By accepting the plea bargain, Blieden is potentially looking at a sentence of 22 years, of which he’ll probably only serve three-quarters depending on his conduct in prison. Blieden is due to be sentenced in March 2020 and he will be staying in prison until that sentencing as the courts have determined him to be a flight risk.
The Fall is Worse than the Climb
It is truly a monumental fall for a poker player who seemingly once had it all.
While employed by StyleHaul (it is entirely possible, but unproven, that Blieden used some of the funds from his embezzlement operation to enter this tournament), Blieden entered the 2018 World Poker Tour L. A. Poker Classic Main Event, one of the few $10,000 events left on the WPT and also one of its most prestigious events. Battling through the 493-entry field, Blieden was able to defeat such players as Garrett Greer, Anthony Zinno, and Toby Lewis on his way to claiming the title and the $1 million payday that went along with it.
A taste of the “big time” proved to be too much for Blieden to handle, however. Blieden would not cash again in 2018, despite being a fixture on the tournament circuit. He wouldn’t make another cash until the 2019 World Series of Poker, where he min-cashed the $1500 Bounty event, and made a deep run in the partypoker MILLIONS Las Vegas, finishing 17th in that tournament for a $35,000 payday. It was after that finish in the MILLIONS that Blieden was arrested and taken into custody.
It is somewhat surprising that Blieden wasn’t caught before he was arrested. Many of the checks he wrote were directly to others in the poker community. He also leased property in Mexico in the company’s name without telling the company about it. Companies of this size usually have auditors that would catch such acts, but Blieden apparently covered his tracks well – well enough to get away with the crimes for almost four years.