The former chief digital officer of Epix was arrested Tuesday at his home in Manhattan on charges that he stole more than $8 million from the premium cabler owned by Viacom, MGM and Lionsgate.
Emil Rensing has been charged with two counts of wire fraud and identity theft. He’s accused of executing an elaborate scheme to bilk Epix out of millions by setting up phantom vendor companies to provide services related to digital media that were never performed. The FBI maintains Rensing committed the fraud from October 2010 until August 2015, when he was confronted by lawyers for Epix. At that time, according to the charging document, Rensing denied that he had any ownership of the vendors in question and he asserted that some of them had employees who are now named as victims of identity theft in connection with the case.
“As alleged, Emil Rensing abused the trust of his employer, hiding behind false and stolen identities, and submitting fraudulent invoices for millions of dollars of services never performed,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “Thanks to the hard work of the FBI, Rensing’s alleged scheme has been uncovered.”
According to the federal complaint filed today in New York’s Southern District Court, Rensing used the names of as many as nine former business associates in his efforts to establish the companies as legitimate. The complaint states that none of those unnamed victims were aware that they had been listed as working for the companies, and that all of the vendors involved in the alleged fraud were controlled by Rensing.
“Greed clouds people’s judgment, so much so that in this case Rensing allegedly used his friends’ names in a scheme to steal money from his employers,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez. “This isn’t a case of an employee keeping the change after getting coffee for the office. Rensing is accused of stealing $8 million from the company that hired him.”
Epix said Rensing was fired in August 2015. “Epix is cooperating fully with the U.S. Attorney’s office in their investigation,” a spokesman said. The U.S. Attorney’s office and FBI declined further comment.
After his appearance before Magistrate Judge Frank Maas in Manhattan federal court, Rensing was released on $500,000 bond. Federal prosecutors now have 30 days to decide whether to indict Rensing on the charges.
The complaint details the lengths to which Rensing went to set up the fraudulent companies, providing false names for two vendors and multiple employee contact names and email addresses to Epix in order to make them appear to be legitimate companies. In all cases, according to the complaint, Rensing controlled the email accounts and bank accounts for the companies that received Epix funds. Part of Rensing’s mandate as chief digital officer was to enlist outside vendors to handle certain technical and administrative tasks for Epix, which has had a big online presence since its launch in 2009.
As described in the complaint, Vendor 1 (the specific name is not cited) was paid $8.22 million by Epix from 2010 to 2014. In September 2014, Rensing told Epix that Vendor 1 should no longer be used. Vendor 2 received payments of $398,620 from Epix in 2014 and 2015.
According to the complaint, suspicions were raised at Epix in March and April of 2015 when an unnamed executive went to visit the company identified as Vendor 2 but found no such business at the address. Per the complaint, Rensing told the executive that the company was undergoing a rebranding. The executive and another Epix financial analyst visited the address again on April 9. This time, on the door of the suite purported to house Vendor 2, they found a sign for an Internet-based video newscast about the automotive industry owned by Rensing.
According to FBI interviews with past and current Epix execs, most of the work attributed to the vendors controlled by Rensing was done in-house by other Epix employees.
Rensing could face a maximum of 20 years in prison on the wire fraud charge and two years on the identity theft charge.
Rensing’s biography states that he was an instrumental player in the early success of AOL and MTV Networks Online and later worked with Frederator Studios and Next New Networks.