LOS ANGELES – A former UCLA decathlete who also competed with the Philippines national team has agreed to plead guilty to two federal criminal charges for fraudulently raising more than $37 million from investors who were told their funds would be used to finance companies marketing cannabis vape pens, the Justice Department announced today.
David Joseph Bunevacz, 53, of Calabasas, agreed to plead guilty to one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud, according to a plea agreement filed today in United States District Court. Both crimes carry a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
Bunevacz, who has been in federal custody since his arrest in this case on April 5, is expected to plead guilty to the charges in the coming weeks.
According to his plea agreement, going back to 2010, Bunevacz created several business entities – including Holy Smokes Holdings LLC and Caesarbrutus LLC – that he claimed were involved in the cannabis industry and the sale of vape pens containing cannabis products such as CBD oil and THC.
Bunevacz falsely told at least one investor he had a longstanding 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,” according to court documents. Bunevacz also provided investors with forged documents – such as bank statements, invoices and purchase orders – to support his claims of the businesses’ success and the need for investor funds.
Instead of using the funds to finance business operations, Bunevacz misappropriated the vast 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.
To create the false appearance that his companies were engaged in legitimate business activities, Bunevacz registered various shell companies, including several with names similar or identical to those of legitimate cannabis businesses. To conceal his control of these shell companies and the bank accounts associated with them, Bunevacz listed other individuals, including his stepdaughter, as the corporate officers of the shell companies.
Bunevacz’s blog touts his success as a former decathlete who competed for the Philippines, and his wife and daughter appeared in a reality television show. Despite Bunevacz’s promotion of his background, Bunevacz took efforts to conceal negative information from investors, such as his 2017 felony conviction for the unlawful sale of securities, according to an affidavit submitted in support of the criminal complaint. After one investor uncovered a lawsuit against Bunevacz, Bunevacz 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 raised between approximately $37,166,737 and $45,068,227 from more than 10 victim-investors. He admitted to causing losses of at least $28,409,112.
The FBI, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and IRS Criminal Investigation are investigating this matter. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission provided substantial assistance.
Assistant United States Attorney Alexander B. Schwab of the Major Frauds Section is prosecuting this case.