A tech venture capitalist’s financial troubles spilled over into federal criminal court Friday with the unsealing of felony fraud charges against the founder of Rothenberg Ventures Management Company, Michael Rothenberg.
Prosecutors charged Rothenberg, 36, of San Francisco with 23 fraud offenses, alleging he set out to mislead investors and banks, illegally using their cash for his personal gain.
If convicted, Rothenberg could face decades in prison. He did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Rothenberg raised four annual funds between 2013 and 2016 to invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, with an eye on the virtual reality industry in particular, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco.
Beginning in 2013, Rothenberg defrauded investors and banks of $18.8 according to federal prosecutors.
The charges are the criminal side of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation that culminated in December when a federal judge ordered Rothenberg to pay back the $18.8 million with $3.6 million in interest plus a $9 million civil penalty.
He had previously agreed in 2018 to be barred from the securities industry for five years as part of the negotiations with the SEC; he neither admitted nor denied that he had violated securities laws.
According to the SEC, Rothenberg used money from the funds he raised to run personal business ventures he claimed were self-funded, as well as to pay for lavish private parties and events including, leasing a private suite at Golden State Warriors games.
Rothenberg used a variety of methods to siphon off millions, according to the criminal complaint.
In 2014, he lied about his wealth to his bank while refinancing his home mortgage, the government said, obtaining a $300,000 personal loan and diverting some of the moneyinto one of his venture funds.
The next year, the government said, Rothenberg pulled in fees for the management of his funds over and above what he was owed by investors, making up the difference at the end of the year by wrangling a fraudulent bank loan of $4 million.
In 2016 Rothenberg convinced an investor to hand over $2 million to invest in a virtual reality company called River Studios he said he owned, but he used the money for other ventures, according to the charges. Later that year, Rothenberg convinced five investors to wire him $1.3 million to invest in the untraded stock of a privately owned software company but he instead funneled the money into his venture fund’s accounts, according to the federal court filing.
Rothenberg has been involved in other lawsuits in the past. Former Rothenberg Ventures executives have also brought suit against Rothenberg previously, alleging he did not cover business expenses.
The company’s one time chief financial officer David Haase won his case in 2017 in San Francisco Superior Court in a judgment that required Rothenberg to pay him $166,000 for the expenses and losses he incurred while working at RVMC, as well as attorney fees for the suit, and other costs.
Michael Rothenberg’s name is not on the latest state registration documents for Rothenberg Ventures.
Chase DiFeliciantonio is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ChaseDiFelice