David Bunevacz’s life looked too good to be true.
The handsome international sportsman, who represented UCLA and the Philippines in the decathlon, roared around Los Angeles in his yellow Lamborghini, returning home to his wife – a former model – and daughter – a model – for lavish parties in the mansion once owned by Kylie Jenner.
To his friends he was a jet-set businessman who generously included them in his lucrative deals and was involved in California’s booming marijuana business.
The pristine image fell apart when friends learnt to their horror that Bunevacz’s seemingly-gilded existence was indeed a sham – after he was arrested and charged last year over a $35million fraud.
David Bunevacz and his wife Jessica Rodriguez lived a life of luxury before he was sentenced to 17 years in prison for a $35 million fraud
Bunevacz and his family lived in this Calabasas mansion, previously owned by Kylie Jenner
Bunevacz’s astonishing rise and fall began in Los Angeles, where he was born – the son of a Hungarian restaurant owner, Joseph Bunevacz, and a Filipina nurse, Filomena, who moved from the Philippines to California in the late 1960s
The young David was a high school athletics star, excelling in high jump, javelin and hurdles.
He went on to compete for the Philippines at the Southeast Asian Games in 1997, placing second in the decathlon.
Bunevacz settled in Manila, working in television co-hosting a sports and travel TV show, and gaining some minor acting parts.
He met his wife Jessica Rodriguez, a model and talent manager, and in 2006 Bunevacz opened a plastic surgery clinic in Manila – advertised with a giant billboard that read ‘Miss Ugly No More’.
Jessica Rodriguez is pictured with their daughter Breanna, a model and equestrian
The business soon soured, however: Bunevacz was accused of swindling investors, and was beaten up, threatened at gunpoint and forced to sign over his Porsche Cayenne Turbo, according to The Los Angeles Times.
He and his wife fled the country, moving back to California.
Jessica wrote a book for ‘polished women’
When Bunevacz told the story of their departure to one friend, it was, he told the paper, ‘a little mixture of Jason Bourne and Indiana Jones.’
Bunevacz appeared to be thriving in Los Angeles.
His wife wrote a book about marrying ‘well’ – a manual for what she termed ‘polished women’.
In 2008, he launched an audacious plan to secure tickets for the Beijing Olympics, partnering up with Gene Hammett, an Atlanta ticket broker.
Hammett was won over by the charming and gregarious businessman: Bunevacz invited Hammett to his suite at the Birds Nest stadium, where they watched Usain Bolt break a world record in the 100-meter sprint.
Bunevacz told Hammett he could get him tickets for the 2010 winter Olympics, in Vancouver: Hammett paid $2.9 million for 17,000.
The tickets never arrived.
Hammett was sued and went bankrupt: he lost his home.
The gamily are pictured on one of their frequent luxury vacations
Prosecutors displayed Jessica’s collection of shoes and handbags
Bunevacz, meanwhile, ripped through Hammett’s cash: money was spent as Tiffany’s, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Giorgio Armani and Hermès, along with a Ritz Carlton spa in Georgia and the Bacara resort in Santa Barbara, said Hammett’s lawyer Filippo Marchino.
Vast sums were transferred to Bunevacz’s account at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, including $125,000 just before Christmas.
‘He was just burning money as soon as he got it,’ said Damon Rogers, another Hammett attorney.
The case was settled four years later for just $325,000.
Bunevacz’s swindling continued, meanwhile.
In around 2010 he hit on another scam – offering investors the ‘opportunity’ to buy in to a company which he claimed was buying vape pens from China, and reselling them at a significant markup in the U.S.
He convinced dozens of friends and acquaintances to invest, including his dentist.
The money was not spent on the business.
His daughter Breanna was thrown a $218,000 party for her 16th birthday.
Held at the Skirball Cultural Center in Brentwood, it featured rapper A Boogie wit da Hoodie.
She was bought a $330,000 horse named Vondel, and the elite showjumping circles she moved in gave her father access to other people he cheated.
Breanna Bunevacz with her $300,000 horse Vondel – and her YSL bag, at the stables
Breanna and one of her horses in action
Breanna was carving out a career as a model, and featured in the TV series ‘Making a Model with Yolanda Hadid’ – the mother of Bella and Gigi.
In January 2019, he threw his wife a lavish party at Nobu in Malibu, and commissioned ‘Crazy Rich Asians’-style posters advertising the bash.
The shopping sprees continued: At jewelry stores in Beverly Hills, Bunevacz bought $209,500 diamond earrings; a diamond ring for $195,000; a Rolex submariner watch for $14,215; and three bracelets and two Hermès Birkin bags for $46,500.
Geoffrey Elliott, a Sheriff’s Department detective on a fraud team in Chatsworth, eventually got a search warrant to raid the Calabasas mansion.
Detectives seized files and documents which they used to prosecute Bunevacz.
He was arrested in April, and in July pleaded guilty to fraud.
In November he was sentenced to 17 years in prison, and ordered to repay $35 million that he swindled from over 100 investors.
It is thought unlikely that any of his victims will see their money again.
The FBI, Internal Revenue Service, and Securities and Exchange Commission joined the investigation.
Elliott, in his arrest warrant request, called Bunevacz a ‘peripatetic grifter’ who forged financial records to con investors out of millions.
U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer, who sentenced him in November, decided to exceed the sentencing recommended by prosecutors, saying she felt he showed no remorse for the lives he ruined.
‘His purpose was to provide himself and his family with an extremely extravagant lifestyle which they flaunted on social media,’ she said.
‘I am not in the least persuaded that Mr. Bunevacz regrets anything other than he was caught.’