Paul Bilzerian is an American-Armenian businessman, corporate takeover specialist, and convicted felon.
Paul Alec Bilzerian was born in 1950 (age 70 years; as of 2020) in Miami, Florida, and grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. He attended a school in Worchester, Massachusetts. On a day in September 1968, he was called in the principal’s office for wearing blue jeans, which violated the school’s dress code. This enraged him and he responded by dropping out of the school. He then went on to join the US Army where he took the high school equivalency test to attend officer’s school and ascended to the rank of first lieutenant. After he was discharged from the army, he attended Standford University and attained his Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Political Science with distinction in 1975. The same year, he joined the Harvard Business School but was not sure about his choice to attend the school, as he had earlier turned down offers of admissions to other law schools to enrol at HBS.
Height (approx.): 5′ 8″
Eye Color: Green
Hair Color: Salt & Pepper
Family & Ethnicity
He is an Armenian American. His ancestors survived the Armenian Genocide (1914–1923), the mass murder of expulsion of ethnic Armenians in Turkey and adjoining regions by the Ottoman government during World War I, and moved to the United States in the 20th century.
Parents & Siblings
His father, Oscar A. Bilzerian, was a civil servant, and his mother’s name is Joan Bilzerian (nee Barrie).
When he was in high school, his parents divorced, which troubled his teenage. He has a brother named Mark S. Bilzerian and a sister named Deborah C. Lambert.
Wife & Children
After his graduation, Bilzerian got married to his Stanford-classmate Terri Steffen in 1978. After their marriage, they moved to St. Petersburg, Florida.
Bilzerian has two sons, Adam Bilzerian (American-born Nevisian poker player and writer) and Dan Bilzerian (an American actor, businessman, amateur poker player, and social media influencer).
After dropping out of high school, he joined the US Army and served in the Vietnam War (Nov 1955-Apr 1975), where he was decorated for his services in Vietnam. After his discharge from the army, he studied at Stanford University. When he graduated from Harvard, he landed a job in the treasurer’s office of the Crown Zellerbach Corporation, where he evaluated merger opportunities. However, he was more interested in making his own deals, and in 1978, Paul, along with two army veterans from the Vietnam war, who had experience in broadcasting, invested in a radio station called ‘WPLP’ in Seminole, Florida. He moved from San Francisco to St. Petersburg to handle finances while his two colleagues managed the sales and marketing of the business. However, after a dispute over control, Bilzerian left the station in the late 1970s and joined his father-in-law, Harry Steffen, in the real estate business. In 1984, he moved to Sacramento, California, with his wife to his in-laws. After he left the station, his partners claimed in lawsuits that he put up only half of the $100,000 that he had pledged and that after he was discharged from the board, he wrote a $50,000 check on the company’s checkbook to his father-in-law, Harry Steffen, a former real estate developer who had supplied his portion of the money. When the name-calling ended, Paul, in an out-of-court settlement, managed to recover his father-in-law’s investment and secured a $300,000 promissory note to drop all claims to the station’s assets. Soon, he started getting involved in his father-in-law’s business, and in 1982, he turned to stocks. In early 1984, he had his first try in takeover business with a smallholding in Syntax Corporation, which backfired when he told his plans to a lot of people and the stocks ran before he could buy much of it. In 1985, his first two high-profile takeover attempts happened, one of New York clothing manufacturer ‘Cluett Peabody & Company,’ and the other of Pittsburgh construction company ‘H. H. Robertson.’ In 1986, he moved back to Florida and with fellow investors William and Earle I. Mack (sons of New Jersey real estate developer H. Bert Mack) launched a takeover bid against the Hammermill Paper Company, purchasing about 3.3 million Hammermill shares at an average price of roughly $47 per share, and then offering $900 million ($52 per share) to purchase the remainder of the company, which was rejected after Hammermill sold out to International Paper instead at $64.50 per share; Bilzerian and his fellow investors still made a profit of more than $60 million from the deal. In 1987, Bilzerian began the takeover of the Singer Corporation, a defense electronics manufacturer. In October 1987, a group of investors led by Bilzerian had purchased $2.1 million Singer shares in the preceding two months. by T. Boone Pickens. In January 1988, Pickens provided $150 million in additional financing that helped Bilzerian acquire Singer.
After serving in prison for the Stock Parking case in the 80′, he became the president of Utah-based software company Cimetrix. In 2002, the government confiscated his ownership in Cimetrix and the company went bankrupt.
In 2020, it was reported that he was managing Ignite International Ltd., founded by Dan Bilzerian (his son). Reports allege that Bilzerian has taken a less shadowy role within the company sending thousands of emails between himself and other top executives at Ignite.
Stock Parking Case
In 1986, the federal government came across an insider trading scheme through which a Drexel Burnham investment banker named Dennis Levine was exchanging inside information for suitcases of cash from Ivan Boesky, a Stock trader, who testified against Boyd Jefferies, the well-known owner and Chairman of Jefferies & Company. After that, Jefferies testified against three individuals in the corporate and investment banking community, including Bilzerian. The SEC then went after Bilzerian and charged him for engagement in deceptive practices during four deals by hiding his ownership of the takeover targets in secret accounts at the Jefferies & Co. stock brokerage firm in Los Angeles. According to him,
I was the first person ever to be indicted for 13d disclosure violations as the hundreds of previous cases were civil and resolved with consent decrees and without fines or penalties. I`d spend $100,000 to defend a $200 lawsuit if I felt I was in the right. ‘I guess that`s the ultimate definition of litigious.”
Bilzerian then pleaded innocent to 12 counts of violating securities and tax laws, conspiracy, and making false statements to the government amidst the growing public controversy and demanded a speedy trial to clear his name. After two days of deliberations in June, the jury found Bilzerian guilty on nine counts including conspiracy, making false statements, and securities law violations. In September, he was sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of $1.5 million for testifying in his own defense. According to him,
Judge Ward had told me before trial that if I lost and did not testify I would receive no jail time, but if I lost and testified I would pay the price.”
Bilzerian’s appeal came before the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which in January 1991 ruled against him in a split decision, finding no merit in his argument that his trial had been unfair. He began serving his sentence in December 1991 at the now-closed Federal Prison Camp, Eglin at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. In December 1992, he was released from prison to serve out his sentence under house arrest.
Civil Suit & Bankruptcy
After Bilzerian was convicted, the SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) filed a civil suit against Bilzerian on identical charges to force him to disgorge the profits from the takeover attempts, which he claimed as double jeopardy as he had already paid the price for his conduct. In 1993, a federal judge ruled in favor of the SEC and ordered Bilzerian to disgorge $33.1 million of profits, plus interest that amounted to $62 million. In January 1994, Bilzerian filed an appeal against the civil judgment in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which was rejected. In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that SEC may seek and obtain disgorgement from a court as “equitable relief” for a securities law violation. Due to the size of the disgorgement judgment against him, Bilzerian had to file for bankruptcy in 1991. In 1999, he tried to put his house up for sale in the prestigious Avila neighborhood of Tampa, Florida. After the SEC continued its pursuit of Bilzerian, the judge issued an order appointing a receiver over his assets and ordered him arrested for civil contempt. In January 2001, Bilzerian filed for bankruptcy again, declaring his non-exempt assets of $15,805 against $140 million in debts, most of which was for the government’s disgorgement judgment. On June 11, 2001, while Bilzerian was in prison, FBI agents raided his family’s residence on the strength of a sealed warrant and seized computers, files, and a Beretta firearm. Bilzerian unsuccessfully sued the FBI agent for filing an affidavit that contained mostly false statements but a federal judge dismissed the case. Bilzerian was released from prison in January 2002 under an agreement under which his wife, Terri Steffen, would sell the residence and split the proceeds with the SEC, and transfer most of her wealth to the SEC.
Awards & Honors
- Vietnamese Gallantry Cross
He owned a 28,000 sq. ft. 10-bedroom, 13 bathrooms, and six half-bath castles in Avila, Tampa, with indoor basketball and racquetball courts, four fireplaces, and a wine room, which was sold at $2.85 million in 2016.
- He likes playing sports and also made indoor basketball and racketball courts to play sports in his now sold mansion in Avila, Tampa. He even dreamt of participating in a major baseball league.
- Paul Bilzerian is a movie buff and wanted access to the video library for his personal use and the tax benefits of depreciating the films. He also used to visit a video rental store in his South Bay Fashion Center in Sarasota.
- After dropping out of his school, he rode his motorcycle, worked the cash register at a fast-food restaurant, and loaded trucks, for a brief time. When he got bored, he joined the Army.
- While studying at Stanford, he and his wife, Terri Steffen, used to borrow a bicycle to do the chores. While he would pedal the bicycle, Terri would ride on the handlebars balancing the laundry. However, according to a classmate, he owned a ‘big, old Cadillac’ at that time.
- From 1978 until he went to jail in 1991, he owned a few homes in St. Petersburg.
- At the 1989 hearing of his stock parking case, he estimated his worth to be more than $50 million. Later that year in a private suit, he declared his net worth to be $81.4 million. At times, he also said that he had made hundreds of millions of dollars.
- During the 2020 Azeri attacks, Paul and his two sons, Adam Bilzerian and Dan Bilzerian, donated $250,000 to the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund, which is currently raising funds to support Artsakh in the attacks. Talking about it in an interview, he said,
I am very disappointed that Azerbaijan decided to attack the Armenian people. This is terrible, young people are dying. The country has to defend itself and the people are heading to the border to war.”