Utah ‘Shark Tank’ entrepreneur charged with defrauding woman

PROVO — A Utah County entrepreneur who gained notoriety on the "Shark Tank" TV show with a belt designed for missionaries and others has been charged with defrauding a woman out of nearly $200,000, causing her to lose her home that investigators say was built specifically to accommodate her disabled son.

Investigators with the Utah County Attorney's Office believe there are additional women who may have fallen victim to Nathanael "Nate" Reid Holzapfel.

Sgt. Cole Christensen, with the Utah County Attorney's Bureau of Investigations, said his office has been in contact with several other potential victims from across the state.

"He's looking for a particular type of female," Christensen said of Holzapfel's alleged modus operandi.

Investigators believe Holzapfel meets women on dating apps and soon after tries to find out about their financial situation. He then hones in on women who are "vulnerable," such as women who recently lost a loved one and were left with insurance money, Christensen said.

Holzapfel, 42, of Provo, was charged on Aug. 30 in 4th District Court with three counts of communications fraud, a second-degree felony. A warrant was issued for his arrest and he was booked into the Utah County Jail on Tuesday. Holzapfel was able to post bail about 90 minutes later. His initial appearance in court is scheduled for Nov. 3.

Holzapfel, who is married, began a romantic relationship in February 2020 with "a divorcee with significant health problems" who cares for her disabled adult son who uses a wheelchair, according to charging documents.

Soon after he began dating the woman, police say Holzapfel began inquiring about the woman's financial situation, including her equity, which she said she had about $200,000.

"(Holzapfel) started telling (the woman) that she needed to do something to protect the equity in her home. (He told her that he) had a company called Save My House, LLC, that could protect the equity in her home and save her from paying high capital gains taxes if she needed to sell the home," the charges state.

On May 14, 2020, Holzapfel took the woman to a title company "as a surprise" and "pressured" her into signing a pre-drafted deed that transferred the ownership of the woman's home to Save My House, the charges state.

The woman initially resisted signing and later told investigators she was confused, but eventually signed. The charges allege that a witness at the title company told investigators "that it was obvious (the woman) did not want to sign the quitclaim deed but finally relented and signed."

At the time the title was signed, Holzapfel failed to tell the woman that he "was having financial problems, had recently been sued, and had a default judgment entered against him for over $250,000," according to the charges.

Holzapfel was sued in 2018 by Larry King Enterprises for allegedly using a mock interview King agreed to do as a favor that Holzapfel could privately submit to TV producers to try and get on their shows. Instead, he "used false pretenses to obtain Larry King's participation in a mock interview, then infringed plaintiffs' common law trademarks and rights of publicity to make it appear that Larry King endorsed (Holzapfel's) commercial activities when, in fact, he has not done so," the lawsuit states.

After the deed was signed, the woman told Holzapfel that she had changed her mind. But court documents say Holzapfel began ignoring requests and started pressuring her to sell her home, which was set up to specifically accommodate her disabled son, and invest part of her equity into another one of his businesses called Bristle & Beard, LLC.

The woman eventually relented and "reluctantly" sold her home, the charges state, but "the alleged business Bristle & Beard, LLC, was not an actual business at the time."

Holzapfel sold the woman's home in August 2020 without telling the woman how much money he made off of it, according to the charges, and then deposited nearly $208,000 into an LLP registered in Alaska that listed Holzapfel and his wife as the general partners.

After receiving a wire transfer of $207,773 on Sept. 1, 2020 from the sale of the woman's home, he began transferring the money to other accounts and "used these funds to pay for existing personal debts on his motor vehicle, attorney fees, credit cards, and to purchase expensive luxury items like firearms and gun supplies. Between Sept. 1, 2020 and Jan. 14, 2021, (he) transferred and spent over $159,000 received from the sale of the victim's home for his sole benefit," the charges state.

Police believe the woman was only paid $11,000 for the sale of her home.

"During (Holzapfel's) romantic courtship and promised business dealings with (the woman), (he) refused to let (her) have any contact with his family and omitted to tell (her) that he was still married," the charges state.

When the woman threatened to go to police in November, she said Holzapfel cut off all contact with her "and disappeared."

In the arrest warrant affidavit issued in September, the officer investigating the case reported making numerous attempts to contact Holzapfel and his attorney, but hadn't heard from either since May. The officer also held surveillance on the address listed on Holzapfel's driver's license, which was a motel in Orem, but did not find any evidence of him living there.

Holzapfel's attorney did not return a call on Wednesday to respond to the allegations.

Holzapfel appeared on the TV show "Shark Tank" in 2013, when he pitched his belt company, Mission Belt. Fashion mogul Daymond John agreed to invest in the belt company during the show. Mission Belt became hugely successful following Holzapfel's appearance on Shark Tank. The belts are popular among missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The company also says it donates $1 for every belt sold to developing countries to support entrepreneuring and for food and clothing.

Holzapfel co-founded the company with his brother, but is no longer associated with the company, according to a prepared statement issued Wednesday from Mission Belt.

"Nate Holzapfel has not been associated with Mission Belt for more than seven years and has no dealings with any of its employees, managers or customers. Nate Holzapfel does not represent Mission Belt in any capacity," the statement says. "We are passionate about belts and our mission to give a hand up to those in need. Nate Holzapfel does not represent Mission Belt or its values."

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Christensen said the criminal case is a good reminder that children aren't the only ones who need to be careful on social media apps.

"We always talk about internet safety for kids. … Sometimes we forget about us and our activity online," he said.

Although Christensen said many of the potential victims he's talked to feel embarrassed about their experiences, he encouraged others who may have had contact with Holzapfel and are in the same situation to contact the Utah County Attorney's Office at 801-815-8069 or email him directly at colec@utahcounty.gov.

"Our office and its investigators are focused on crime that hurts people. Clearly, financial crimes such as this are life-altering events for the victims. We have excellent investigators who took a case that was easily dismissed by some as a civil matter and brought it to an arrest and charges because the evidence supported it. Victims deserve no less," Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said in a prepared statement.

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