Many in the local entertainment industry were shocked to hear that David Bunevacz, a former Philippine national athlete and model, has pleaded guilty to two charges on defrauding investors in California out of US$37 million as part of an elaborate cannabis-based business scam.
Court records released earlier this month show that the Calabasas-based businessman pleaded guilty before a federal judge in California’s Central District to one count each of securities and wire fraud. Both charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, so the 53-year-old could face up to 40 years of jail time.
Authorities arrested Bunevacz in April over allegations that he had set up fake vaping businesses and defrauded investors out of millions of dollars since 2010. He used the money to support his lavish lifestyle, including a fancy house, gambling trips in Las Vegas during which he spent as much as US$8 million, luxury cars and horses, designer handbags, and even blowing US$200,000 on his daughter’s sweet sixteen birthday party.
Labeled a “serial grifter” by Rolling Stone, Bunevacz reportedly ran the scam for over a decade and went to great lengths to cover up his scheme including forging bank statements and legal documents, lying about business connections, and laundering money through shell companies.
For younger readers who may not have a clue who Bunevacz is, here are some key details to know about this controversial figure.
He represented the Philippines in the Southeast Asian Games
A varsity athlete at University of California, Los Angeles, Bunevacz was recruited by the Philippine Sports Commission to represent the Philippines in international sporting events in the 1990s, including the Southeast Asian Games, where he earned a gold medal in 1997 for the decathalon.
He married a fellow Filipino celebrity
Bunevacz married model and celebrity Jessica Rodriguez in a lavish wedding ceremony in Manila before the two moved to the United States. It seems that they have maintained their celebrity connections over the years — star journalist Korina Sanchez paid the couple a visit in Los Angeles in 2017.
This is not the first time he’s been in hot water
Darna star and former girlfriend Anjanette Abayari claimed that Bunevacz sold her car and a Rolex watch worth PHP250,000 (US$4,445) without her permission and also attempted to sell her condominium unit.
Affidavits also cited reports from local media outlets dating back to 2007 say Bunevacz and his family were run out of the Philippines for allegedly embezzling funds from a cosmetic surgery clinic he ran there. Business partners reportedly became suspicious after he made high-profile purchases, including a BMW X5 he gifted his wife.