Former WPT champion jailed for embezzlement
Dennis Blieden was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for embezzlement this week in a cautionary tale for poker players.
He embezzled more than $22 million from his employer StyleHaul where he was in charge of accounting. He did so to fund high stakes poker and crypto investing.
StyleHaul, a digital marketing agency, went out of business a few months after he was arrested.
In a handwritten letter to the judge, Blieden blamed problem gambling which started from childhood. He explained he was taught how to count using blackjack at the age of three, would play poker for his allowance with his brother and father aged 13 and stole his parent’s credit cards to play online poker aged 17.
Despite winning the LA Poker Classic in 2018 for $1 million, Blieden had already embezzled $15 million from his company by then to cover his crypto and gambling debts. He said that the WPT win only made his problems worse because it gave him validation from the poker community and he wanted to keep that going by playing in the highest stakes games in poker. In his letter to the judge he wrote:
This, looking back, had a huge impact on me mentally and was no doubt an accelerant in my gambling. I was now outwardly validated within the poker community and from my peers as being a professional gambler, so I did everything I could to keep that reputation alive. My desire to belong was so strong and misguided that I believed playing in the largest possible buy-in games would make me be more accepted. I was being invited to new private games, where millions of dollars were on the table at a time, and my bet sizing for online gambling increased to at least hundreds of thousands.
Blieden was arrested in 2019 and faced a sentence of potentially up to 22 years. He was sentenced by Central District of California judge André Birotte Jr. to 79 months for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, following a plea deal.