Serial Grifter Pleads Guilty to Weed-Industry Scam in California
David Bunevacz, a former decathlete and competitor for the Philippines national team in the Southeast Asian Games, has pleaded guilty to two charges related to a scheme to defraud cannabis-industry investors.
Bunevacz was arrested in April, accused of setting up fake cannabis vaping businesses and deceiving investors into giving him $37 million. Authorities claim he used the money to support a lavish lifestyle: buying cars, horses, and luxury goods including diamond earrings, a Rolex, and Hermes bags; gambling away more than $8 million at casinos; and spending more than $200,000 to throw a sweet sixteen birthday party for his daughter . On Monday, he appeared before a federal judge in Cailfornia’s Central District to plead guilty to one count each of securities fraud and wire fraud.
According to an affidavit from the time of his arrest, Bunevacz perpetrated the scam over the course of more than a decade and went to elaborate lengths to deceive his victims: lying about his business connections, forging bank statements and legal settlements, laundering money through shell companies, and concealing prior legal troubles.
Both crimes Bunevacz pleaded guilty to carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, so he could face a total of 40 years. He was initially also charged with money laundering and identity theft related to the fraud charges. As part of the plea deal, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will move to dismiss those charges, although the judge may consider the dismissed charges when establishing sentencing guidelines. His sentencing has been scheduled for Nov. 21.
It’s not the first time Bunevacz, whom authorities describe in the affidavit as a “peripatetic grifter,” has found himself in hot water. Around 2007, according to reports from Filipino media outlets cited in the April affidavit, Bunevacz — who, according to his website, was born in the U.S. to a Filipino mother and Hungarian-American father — was run out of the Philippines for stealing money from the cosmetic surgery clinic he ran there. News accounts say his business partners became suspicious after he made several high-profile purchases, including a BMW X5, which he reportedly bought his wife as an anniversary gift. Reports say Bunevacz’ colleagues physically assaulted him over the alleged theft.
Around the time of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Bunevacz made headlines in the U.S. for his role in an alleged ticket sales scheme. The owner of a ticket-selling operation claimed that he paid Bunevacz $3 million for 17,000 tickets to the games that never arrived to him and his customers. The ticket seller sued Bunevacz, and a 2014 settlement agreement said Bunevacz would pay the seller $325,000. In the 2022 case, federal authorities allege Bunevavcz later created a counterfeit version of that settlement to make it appear to potential investors that the lawsuit was resolved in his favor.
In 2016, the Los Angeles County District Attorney hit Bunevacz with a nine-count felony complaint charging him with three counts each of grand theft, unlawful securities sales, and securities fraud. He entered a “no contest” plea to two of the securities sales counts and was sentenced to 360 days in jail, three years of probation, and 300 hours of community service. Authorities allege it was while he was on probation for these state securities offenses that he committed most of the crimes alleged in April’s federal complaint.
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