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Home / ponzi scheme

Former UCLA decathlete sentenced for $28.4M cannabis vaping scam

A former UCLA decathlete who competed with the Philippines national team was sentenced Monday to 210 months in federal prison for raising more than $28 million from investors who were falsely told their funds would be used to finance companies marketing cannabis vape pens.

David Bunevacz, 53, of Calabasas, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer, who also ordered him to pay $35,267,851 in restitution. At the hearing, Fischer noted that Bunevacz had “preyed on individuals who believed he was their friend” and that the “seriousness of (his) conduct cannot be captured in mere dollars and cents,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Fischer also found that Bunevacz continued to perpetrate his scheme even while serving probation for a state court conviction, concluding, “Not even a criminal conviction and the threat of jail convinced (Bunevacz) to become a law-abiding citizen.”

Bunevacz pleaded guilty in July to one federal count each of securities fraud and wire fraud. He has been in federal custody since his arrest on April 5.

Bunevacz solicited investments in various businesses — CB Holding Group Corp. and CaesarBrutus LLC, among others — that he claimed were involved in the sale of vape pens containing cannabis products such as CBD oil and THC.

He falsely told at least one investor he had a long-standing relationship with a Chinese manufacturer of disposable vape pens and he obtained “raw pesticide-free oil” that was sent to a “lab that infuses the flavors into the oil with our proprietary custom process that renders the vape flavoring smooth and discrete,” the criminal complaint states.

Bunevacz also provided investors with forged documents, including bank statements, invoices and purchase orders, to support his claims of the businesses’ success and the need for investor funds, according to his plea agreement.

Instead of using the funds to finance business operations, Bunevacz misappropriated the majority of the funds to pay for his own opulent lifestyle, “including a luxurious house in Calabasas, Las Vegas trips, jewelry, designer handbags, a lavish birthday party for his daughter, and horses,” papers filed in Los Angeles federal court state.

Bunevacz spent over $8.1 million at casinos, paid $218,700 to an event planner in connection with the birthday party and bought a horse for $330,000. Some investor funds were used to repay earlier investors in a manner consistent with a Ponzi scheme.

Bunevacz’s blog touts his success as a former decathlete who competed for the Philippines, and said his wife and daughter appeared in a reality television show.

The investigation revealed Bunevacz took efforts to conceal negative information from investors, such as his 2017 felony conviction for the unlawful sale of securities.

After one investor uncovered a civil lawsuit against Bunevacz, the defendant emailed a counterfeit version of the settlement agreement to falsely make it appear that he had been paid $325,000 as part of a settlement. In reality, it was Bunevacz who had agreed to pay $325,000 to settle the claim.

Operating through his cannabis companies, Bunevacz caused investor losses of at least $28.4 million.

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