A venture capitalist parodied by HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ is now facing criminal charges and perhaps even jail time
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Mike Rothenberg is (quite literally) the stuff of an HBO television series.
The self-described “millennial venture capitalist” became known in Silicon Valley for spending lavishly at his seed-stage fund, Rothenberg Ventures. Justified as networking events expanded by Rothenberg’s own web of Ivy League alumni, the fund treated its invitees to luxury box seats at Golden State Warrior Games, hot-air balloon rides, and perhaps most famously of all, a day of batting practice and massages at what was then AT&T Park—the Giants’ stadium.
That event was later inspiration for Silicon Valley, HBO’s comedy series that often pokes fun at venture capital culture, with Bloomberg then calling Rothenberg “The Valley’s Party Animal.”
His narrative may be taking on an even more dramatic turn in real life.
On Friday, the Department of Justice alleged that Rothenberg had “fraudulently obtained at least $18.8 million through his illegal conduct,” tacking on a string of charges—with two bank fraud charges and the two false statement to a bank charges each carrying 30 years in prison at maximum.
According to the DoJ, Rothenberg obtained some of the funds for his venture capital firm by committing bank fraud and had used investor funding for personal use. In one case, the DoJ alleged that Rothenberg took excess fees from the venture firm and then faced a shortfall by the end of 2015 that he “did not wish to report.” The department further alleged that Rothenberg then sought to make up the shortfall by obtaining a $4 million line of credit by making false statements to a bank.
Early on, people questioned how exactly the fund, which raised $50 million between 2012 and 2016, was able to afford the parties and its undisciplined spending, which included BBQs with tutu-ed ponies. The firm had some notable investments, including in the likes of Robinhood, SpaceX, and Revel Systems, but concerns persisted.
The Securities and Exchange Commission reached out to the firm following a whistleblower complaint in 2016 alleging client funding had been used for unintended purposes, with Rothenberg ultimately settling and neither admitting nor denying wrongdoing. Rothenberg did agree to be barred from the industry for five years in 2018, and a California federal court later called for him to pay $31.4 million to settle SEC allegations.
Rothenberg has not yet responded to a request for comment on the most recent charges.
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