‘Silicon Valley’s Party Animal’ convicted on multiple fraud charges

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SAN FRANCISCO – The man described as “Silicon Valley’s Party Animal,” who became infamous for his business philosophy of mixing work and fun and helped inspire the excess depicted in an HBO comedy, now has a new claim to fame — he’s the latest in a recent series of Bay Area business executives to be convicted on fraud charges. Michael Rothenberg, a 39-year-old San Francisco-based venture capitalist, was convicted by a federal jury on Thursday of wire fraud, money laundering, bank fraud and making false statements to a bank, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The conviction followed a seven-week trial where prosecutors said that Rothenberg had lied to investors in his venture capital fund, using their money to prop up the virtual-reality company he owned, and that he had lied to a major bank to get a loan to keep his financial house of cards intact. Prosecutors said he founded and used Rothenberg Ventures Management Company between 2012 and 2018 to manage four venture capital funds. Those funds meant to be invested in Silicon Valley start-ups with a focus on virtual reality technologies. However, Rothenberg had started his own company to create virtual-reality content. He told employees and investors that he had self-funded the company, called River Studios; that was a lie, according to evidence at trial. Prosecutors said a “large amount of venture capital fund money” was used to fuel the company in its infancy. As his financial woes increased, Rothenberg lied to Silicon Valley Bank to obtain a $4 million line of credit, using some of that money to repay the venture capital funds. Silicon Valley Bank would eventually collapse in spring 2023 and be seized by federal regulators. Rothenberg’s sentencing is scheduled for March 1, 2024; he remains out of custody on pre-trial bail. He faces a maximum of 60 years in prison and about $1.5 million in fines. Rothenberg gained notoriety in the Silicon Valley business scheme in the 2010s as a self-described “millennial venture capitalist,” according to a Bloomberg profile written in 2015. He threw fraternity-like parties for employees and business associated, fueled by booze and sponsorship money. According to the piece, Rothenberg in-part inspired the HBO comedy “Silicon Valley,” which ran from 2014-2019. The conviction comes after two other high-profile fraud convictions of Silicon Valley executives this year. Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes is currently serving a required 9.5 year sentence in a Texas prison after she defrauded investors. FTX co-founder San Bankman-Fried was convicted earlier this month in the largest cryptocurrency fraud trial in history.

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