Party animal venture capitalist Rothenberg accused by SEC of bilking investors

Key Points
  • After years of spending lavishly on parties, Mike Rothenberg has been charged by the SEC for using investor money to pay for his own projects.
  • Rothenberg settled with the SEC without admitting or denying the charges
Mike Rothenberg
Source: YouTube

Mike Rothenberg, a venture capitalist who gained a reputation for throwing lavish parties, has been charged by the SEC for overcharging investors and using that money for his personal endeavors.

In a statement on Monday, the SEC said that Rothenberg, 34, and his firm over three years "misappropriated millions of dollars from the funds" they raised, "which Rothenberg used to support personal business ventures he claimed were self-funded and to pay for private parties and events at high-end resorts and Bay Area sporting events."

Rothenberg founded the seed-stage firm in 2012 and branded himself as a big backer of virtual reality, raising more than $64 million to invest in what he called "frontier technologies." But he spent well beyond his means and quickly got wrapped up in a number of legal affairs, including a case filed against him by his firm's former finance chief and a class action suit that related to contract workers not getting paid.

The SEC opened its investigation in 2016. In Monday's statement, the agency said that Rothenberg and Rothenberg Ventures agreed to settle the charges without admitting or denying the allegations. Rothenberg agreed to be barred from working in the brokerage and investment advisory business for five years.

"Venture capital investors provide important funding for start-ups but there are risks, including potential harm to investors from unscrupulous managers who defraud them, as we allege Rothenberg did in this case," said C. Dabney O'Riordan, co-chief of the SEC's enforcement division's asset management unit.

Among Rothenberg's most extravagant reported expenditures include hiring a race car driver named Collete Davis and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars bringing her (and her car) to various promotional events. He booked a Super Bowl suite to court prospective contributors to his fund. And he spent money co-producing a video for Coldplay.

At the same time, he reportedly failed to reimburse employees for major business expenses after requiring them to use their own personal debit or credit cards, or his personal card, rather than corporate credit cards. Recode reported on one of the firm's events at AT&T Park, where the San Francisco Giants play, that began with a clip from from Mike Judge's HBO comedy, "Silicon Valley."

Rothenberg's website says its investments include SpaceX, Robinhood and VR start-ups Fove and The Wave VR.

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CNBC's Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.