You can get away with a lot in the ego-lacquered corridors of tech—but if people think you stole their money, they're going to try to tear you apart. TechCrunch's Ryan Lawler is on the trail of alleged startup crook Jon Mills, who friends say blew tons of cash in Vegas. Their cash.
Jon Mills loves entertaining people. He loves impressing them with gaudy things (drinks!) in gaudy places (Vegas!) paid with gaudy scrip (startup cash!). If the deluded conscience of every single software venture is to change the world for the better, Mills was its id: he wanted to dazzle the world, not perfect it.
Which isn't to say he's a sleaze—or a mere sleaze. As acquaintance told me, "Jon's a really fucking smart guy. He also happens to be a sociopath." It worked for a long while—Jon Mills is the (now ousted) man behind Motionloft, a "realtime analytics" startup that's generally considered a decent idea for a business, in that it helps other businesses and could be a viable corporation. In a pit of pseudo-businesses, Motionloft was a decent anomaly. But as TechCrunch explains, Jon Mills went from guy-with-a-decent-tech-business to desperate grifter:
Mills was a first-time entrepreneur, but he had received backing from high-profile investors like Mark Cuban, and according to the Motionloft website, the company had secured clients like CVS, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Cushman & Wakefield.
When Mills started asking friends if they wanted to invest in his company, a few of them jumped at the opportunity.
And it all unravels quickly from there:
They say Mills cashed checks that altogether were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, promising them a small percentage of the company. Later, when he told them an acquisition was imminent, they felt confident they had made the right decision.
The problem is that these same friends say the cashed checks didn't go toward funding a business, but toward funding Jon Mills, who already had an outrageous reputation for conspicuous money-melting. With Shah Dickson, his then-girlfriend who worked as a nightclub bottle waitress, Mills spent and spent to keep up an image of silicon plenty—perhaps absorbed via tacky osmosis through a longtime friendship with Sean Parker. One friend told me of a drug-stoked trip to Coachella, where Mills flew in strippers from Spearmint Rhino to entertain his friends. When it was time to throw Dickson a birthday party, he hired talent microbe Mickey Avalon to gyrate and slur in a private room.
[There was a video here]
As Mills racked up checks from duped friends, his spending kept pace, says TechCrunch:
It all came to a head in late November 2013 when Mills invited about a dozen friends to join him and his then-girlfriend in Las Vegas for a weekend to celebrate her birthday and the acquisition, which Mills said had finally closed.
It was the third such trip that Mills had taken people on over the course of several weeks, and it was the most excessive of the bunch.
This was financed mostly with money friend-and-family investors say was theirs, fueled by bogus promises of imminent riches. The easy money pitch is an easy one to deliver, and during today's software boom times, an easy one to swallow: TechCrunch's Lawler furnished these texts, apparently from Mills to a friend who was totally about to see a return on that investment!
But the bullish act didn't last once Mills' checks started to bounce:
Justin Sullivan is the CEO of Private FLITE, the private jet service Mills used to charter the flights in November. He told me that Mills promised several days in a row he would pay for those flights by wire and later told Sullivan he would FedEx a check. Neither came.
Sullivan's subtle website, JonMillsFraud.com, is an angry catalog of alleged theft, calling Mills a "check-kiting, jet-setting scoundrel," and offering up some evidence of shady dealings:
Large, bounced checks.
Evasive texts from Mills, considered the standard runaround.
Since TechCrunch first started poking around Mills, he's sicced crisis attorney Marty Singer on sources, one of whom retracted their story under what looks like very obvious coercion. These people are, for the most part, probably fucked—since Jon Mills' ejection from Motionloft, investor Mark Cuban has regained control of the company and tells TechCrunch it's back on the straight and narrow. If Mills ripped off his buddies, they might have little recourse. And given the microscopic attention span of Silicon Valley, where failure is encouraged and you can always start over, and over, and over, Jon Mills might already be planning his next Vegas bender.