Ex-Decathlete Sentenced for $45.2M Cannabis Ponzi Scheme Spent $8M in Casinos

A former UCLA decathlete who later represented the Philippines at track and field events has been sentenced to 17.5 years in a federal prison for fraud.

David Bunevacz
David Bunevacz hugging and unnamed woman during an event in the Philippines, where he was a tabloid star. The 53-year-old will be 70 when he is released from a federal prison. (Image: Rappler)

American Philippine citizen David Bunevacz, 53, of Calabasas, Calif. stole more than $35 million from investors, $8.1 million of which he blew at casinos, according to federal prosecutors.

Bunevacz duped his victims into believing their money would go towards financing companies that marketed cannabis vape pens.

In reality, he spent the money on “a luxurious house in Calabasas, Las Vegas trips, jewelry, designer handbags, a lavish birthday party for his daughter, and horses,” according to court records.

Big in the Philippines

Bunevacz, a celebrity in the Philippines, splurged $218,700 on the birthday party and bought a racing horse for $330,000, court filings state. Some investor funds were used to repay earlier investors, bearing the classic hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme.

Bunevacz registered several shell companies to “create the false appearance that his companies were engaged in legitimate business activities,” according to prosecutors. He distanced himself from these companies by naming other people, including his stepdaughter, as corporate officers.

He raised a total of $45.2 million in fraudulent investments from more than 100 investors. US District Judge Dale S. Fischer of the Central District Court of California ruled he was responsible for losses amounting to more than $35 million.

“The sense of violation, the assault on personal dignity, and the lasting trauma [Bunevacz] has caused are very much reminiscent of the harm typically associated with violent crimes,” prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum. “And, with well over a hundred victims, [Bunevacz] caused these harms at a scale rarely seen.”

Fame and Misfortune

After excelling as a student athlete at UCLA, Bunevacz’s performances caught the eye of Philippine sports officials. He was eligible to compete for the nation because his mother was a Filipino.

His finest moment came in the 1997 Southeast Asian Games, where he won a gold medal in javelin. But his sports career ultimately failed to set the world alight, according to Rappler.

Subsequently, he tried his hand at movie stardom and acted in several films for the Philippine market. He became tabloid fodder in the country because of his predilection for dating famous actresses and beauty queens.

One, Anjanette Abayari, claimed in a 2015 television interview that Bunevacz had used her as a drugs mule. She was arrested at Guam International Airport in 2009 for possession of illegal narcotics which she claimed to know nothing about.

Bunevacz has one felony conviction in the US for the unlawful sale of securities in 2017.

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