Legal, People

Disgraced VC Steven Burrill heads to prison with 30-month sentence for fraud, tax evasion

An indictment on 34 counts of wire fraud, investment adviser fraud, and tax evasion has finally led to prison time for venture capitalist Steven Burrill.

Known in biopharma circles for brash talk and a lavish lifestyle — supported in part by millions looted from his own biotech fund — Burrill was first indicted last September by a federal grand jury and faced a total of 30 years in prison alongside millions in fines.

But after signing a sealed plea agreement, Burrill will only serve 2.5 years for the first two counts and pay $200 in a “special assessment.” A restitution hearing next month will determine whether Burrill must pay back $5.6 million to the fund he dipped into plus an additional $2.9 million to the IRS for tax losses.

According to the Department of Justice, Burrill convinced limited partners to contribute capital to the $283 million Burrill Life Sciences Capital Fund III with “false and misleading letters,” transferred millions in fees management to entities under his control, and failed to report the income he funneled into his personal accounts.

An earlier SEC litigation — which Burrill settled — put some aggregate numbers on the case, dating back to 2007. Over the next seven years, transfers from Fund III became routine. About $4.6 million was used to cover personal costs.

In spring of 2015, Burrill settled his dispute with the SEC, handing over $6 million to cover what he had lifted out of the fund for expenses that included family vacations to St. Barts and Paris as well as jewelry from Tiffany’s, gifts, car service, and private jets. The gifts went to both his girlfriend as well as his wife.

Burrill’s problems turned critical after he had a falling out in 2014 with some of his staffers. After he fired them, they alerted investors, who quickly seized control of the fund and started the chain of events.

Having backed biotech stalwarts like Pharmasset and Galapagos, coupled with media coverage from titles like Scientific American extolling him as a visionary, Burrill was once one of biopharma’s most visible venture capitalists.

He is now scheduled to report to prison on March 4, 2019.

Image: Steven Burrill, fifteen years ago, posing at a forum “Nobel Prizes and Biotechnology Gurus celebrate DNA Discovery’s 50th Anniversary” in Lyon, France Getty

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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